The Case for Cameroon in the World Cup
The odds don’t look good for the Indomitable Lions. A nERD of 0.80 has them firmly at the bottom of the numberFire 2014 FIFA World Cup rankings, essentially rating as the least efficient team going to Brazil. The Cameroonians are given only a 3.49% chance of progressing to the knockout phase, and a firm 0.00% chance of winning the tournament. To say the stats looks bleak for the Lions is putting it mildly.
Is there any way Cameroon can progress from Group A?
To get out of the African qualifiers, the Lions had to go through DRC, Libya and Togo in Round 2 of the qualifiers - hardly a challenge. They then tied Tunisia 0-0 in Tunis before stomping them out 4-1 in Yaounde. Cup qualification isn’t something to take for granted, but Cameroon had an easy time of it.
The actual big dance promises to be a tougher affair. The World Cup grouping tossed the Indomitable Lions in with the hosts, Brazil, the fierce Mexico, and the immensely gifted Croatia. There will be no cupcakes or gimmes for Volker Finke’s side - there are numerous tough groups in this tournament, and this is one of them.
Cameroon’s German coach, Volker Finke, managed SC Freiburg for 16 years. His reputation is well instilled as a tactician of the highest order, or at least he used to be that. His ideas were fresh and revolutionary in the '90s, and he kept a financially poorer Freiburg team relevant in a tough Bundesliga with his team-first ethos. If the Lions have an advantage in the group, it’s that they may have the best manager of the four.
Yes, "Big Phil" Scolari has won a World Cup before, but in terms of pure tactical ability, Finke is heralded as a master. None of the other three managers have that kind of technical cache. They won’t be outwitting the 66-year-old tactician, and he’ll have the Cameroonians set up correctly and reacting correctly, whether they can keep away from silly errors is another thing altogether.
On defense and with regards to goalkeeping, the Lions have a fine assortment of players led by Marseille’s Nicolas N’Koulou, who is the standout individual of the group. The strength of that defense will be the it’s functionality as a unit. Finke is a team-first guy, so their organization and them playing for each other will be something to watch for. In a recent friendly versus Germany, they showed some susceptibility to the movement of the Germans. Those rough edges will have to be smoothened out.
The midfield and attack are a bit more loaded, as they are led by a 33-year-old Samuel Eto’o Fils, who, in his day, was the finest striker in world footie. Those days are gone, but Eto’o retains good movement and the season with Chelsea has got him as sharp as can be for the summer. The midfield has some really good players, and their strength is the pure physical ability of the unit. Song, Mbia, Matip, Makoun are high-level workers. And they're not just hard workers - they’re smart workers.
Brazil are overwhelming favorites as host, and have one of the finest sides in world soccer. They’ll be really hard to beat at home, but they’re Cameroon’s third game and the hope is they’ll have qualification wrapped up before then.
Cameroon starts off versus Mexico. If Cameroon is at the top of their game, they should be able to take full points from Mexico. The game against Croatia would then be the key contest for this team. The Croatians have some of the finest players in world soccer today, as the midfield of Rakitic, Modric and Kovacic can hang with any team, while Mandzukic is a super finisher. But they’re a little lacking in physicality, and if their recent friendly against Mali showed us something, it’s that despite all their pretty play, they don’t know how to go for the jugular.
If Cameroon is disciplined and can keep away from the usual squabbles, there’s no reason they can’t get to six points before they meet Brazil. The stats might be against them, but don’t completely write off Cameroon just yet.