Cameroon get it wrong, very wrong
Cameroon's 4-0 defeat to Croatia on Wednesday night spelled the end of a disastrous 2014 World Cup campaign. All that is left to play for now is pride, but the final Group A match against Brazil only promises to add further insult to their misery.
Coming into the tournament, few questions had been posed about the experience and tactical acumen of coach Volker Finke. Cameroon beat Tunisia, an average side, to qualify for the tournament, but after a stuttering first leg, the performance in the second leg was tactically perfect -- in terms of team selection and the three substitutes brought on when Tunisia had pulled within a goal and put Cameroon under pressure.
Certainly, in appointing the German coach, the Cameroon football federation seemed to have finally appointed someone with bona-fide managerial pedigree, rather than the little-known bosses that have filled the managerial hot seat in recent years.
But in two World Cup games so far, Finke has shown few tactical solutions to the problems posed to him by the opposition. Against Mexico, he was slow to react to their 3-5-2 system despite Cameroon struggling to assert themselves in the game. And while matters were not helped by the odd and unnecessary sending off of Alex Song against Croatia, there didn't seem an adequate enough strategy even when they were playing with 11 men.
When you witness a team such as Australia -- who possess half the ability of Cameroon and had minimal preparation time -- maximise every ounce of their ability to give a mighty scare to one of the tournament favourites, you can't help but question the African side's preparations and the coach's tactical know-how.
If there's one idiosyncrasy that Finke has as a coach, then it's high pressing. It was a feature we saw improve gradually during the warm-up friendlies, culminating in the draw against Germany, when Samuel Eto'o, Benjamin Moukandjo and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting all pressed efficiently and with organisation over the course of 90 minutes. Come tournament time, though, there has been no trace of this. So what has happened?
The defence, at least on paper, is the strongest component of the Cameroon squad, but Finke's constant chopping and changing hasn't helped matters. He has dithered over the right-back spot, with Dany Nounkeu coming on at halftime in both World Cup games, to replace Cedric Djeugoue against Mexico and to allow Stephane Mbia to move higher up in the Croatia game. In front of the back line, Joel Matip, more comfortable at centre-back, was deployed as the anchor in midfield to allow Song to play higher up.
Indeed, the composition of the back four had been a pre-tournament debate. Form-wise, Henri Bedimo and Allan Nyom should have occupied the left-back and right-back spots, respectively, but they rotted on the bench despite very good seasons at club level and the poor candidates ahead of them. The same argument can be made for Matip, who has been ditched at the heart of the defence despite showing good form in the warm-ups, with the error-prone Aurelien Chedjou preferred.
If you have a defensive foundation, you need to stick to it rather than constantly reshuffling during the tournament. Finke didn't manage to do that, so all these factors saw an incongruous back line that was less than the sum of its parts.
Yet when people witness pitiful displays such as that of Cameroon on Wednesday night, the blame falls on the passion and dedication of the players on the pitch. That line of thinking has, unfairly, accentuated after their stance on the bonus payments for qualification and Benoit Assou-Ekotto's head-butt on Moukandjo.
However, the virtues of passion and dedication can take you only so far. The performances over the last few weeks, bar the impressive draw against Germany, are the result of years of mismanagement from top to bottom. The Cameroon team you witness on the pitch is a group of 11 individuals put together. Now that they won't be staying in Brazil, it's back to the drawing board.