Namibia boosted their chances of qualifying for the Afcon 2023 final when they held Cameroon to a 1-1 draw in Yaounde on Friday night.
Peter Shalulile gave Namibia the lead on 26 minutes, but newcomer Olivier Kemen equalised for Cameroon on 72 minutes to grab a share of the spoils for the Indomitable Lions.
The result leaves Cameroon on top of Group C on four points from two matches, but Namibia have now moved into second place on two points, with Burundi third on one point.
Namibia will take on Cameroon in their return leg in Johannesburg on 28 March.
The top two teams in their group will qualify for the 2023 Afcon final which takes place in the Ivory Coast in January next year.
The Indomitable Lions starting lineup was as follows in a 4-3-3 tactical setup – Epassy Devis (GK); Bokele, Castelleto, Wooh, Tolo; Zambo, Kemen, Ntcham; Mbeumo, Ganago, Ngamaleu.
Cameroon’s first substitution came in the 44th minute when Wooh Christopher collided with Charles Hambira leading to both being stretchered off the pitch. Veteran Nicholas Nkoulou replaced Wooh. At the start of the second half, world cup assist provider Ngom Bekeli came in for Malcolm Bokele while Song made a tactical switch. Mbeumo switched to left winger and Ngamaleu to right back to accommodate Ngom infront of him.
With Song searching for the equaliser, Kunde Malong replaced Olivier Ntcham in the 71st minute. A minute later, Kunde provided a wonderful free kick cross for Kemen to head home.
12 minutes later, another tactical switch operated in which Kemen was withdrawn for local boy, Emmanuel Mahop, to play alongside Ignatius Ganago in a 4-4-2 system. Song and his team laboured for nine minutes till the end of the encounter without getting a winner.
The team had played with such character and valiancy during the World Cup, leaving Indomitable Lions fans disappointed but bursting with pride that Mfandena is still as mystical as ever to retain that stadium’s unbeaten run to continue for years. Still, with every draw — no matter how close — there is always room for improvement.
Song is poised to remain at the helm at least until the 2024 AFCON and he must now pick his side up off the floor and prepare to qualify the team for the tournament in Côte d’Ivoire. But what exactly do Cameroon need to do differently?
Kick442 talked to Sports Consultant, Raymond Elume who provided the following solutions:
Use the attacking talent
If there may be one area of regret for Rigobert Song from this match, it is that Kunde Malong only started from the bench.
The thinking behind his place on the bench was understandable: he is a creative player that can cause severe damage to opposition defences, especially so when they are faltering in the latter stages of matches. Song had proof when he entered as he provided the assist and numerous through balls and crosses.
With Ganago maybe losing his place to team captain, Vincent Aboubakar, suspended for the home game, but available in South Africa, it may be judicious to play both players upfront so as to provide a permanent attacking threat.
Find a dictator
Olivier Ntcham and Olivier Kemen did a tremendous job in the double-pivot considering their relative level of inexperience of international football — it was their first partnership together and they were solid performers in the engine room.
That is where Zambo Anguissa could come into the picture. There is no question this hugely talented player is not afraid to invite pressure from opponents and play around them. In fact, he seems to enjoy it. His elegant style of play allows him to glide through the midfield and his close control makes it easier for his team-mates around him.
With more football under his belt at Napoli, it could be his time to shine in the Cameroon midfield.
Stick with a formation
The best managers in the world devise a system that they use religiously and very rarely waver from.
Some managers prefer to be more pragmatic and Song certainly fits that description. While he has predominantly used the 4-3-3 during his one-year reign (first game on March 25, 2022 vs Algeria in Douala, 11th game on March 24, 2023 vs Namibia in Yaoundé), the 46-year-old has found some joy in switching to two strikers upfront.
When they used it for the first time against Burundi, it felt unnecessary. It was a game Cameroon needed to dominate and they were sterile in possession, such are the limitations of the 4-4-2. That game finished 1-0 and Song and his players were criticised.
But in the last group stage game in the World Cup, Brazil were probably not expecting Song to revert to the same 4-4-2 to counteract their wingers Anthony and Martinelli. It worked superbly and all of a sudden, Song is a genius.
There can be no denying Cameroon looked more comfortable in the 4-3-3. With another major tournament fast approaching, Song should consider sticking with one formation to allow his players to acclimatise to the setup.
Play with confidence
There was something that singled out Cameroon’s victory over Brazil compared to the rest of their World Cup games and it wasn’t merely the fact they had scored three goals in the previous game against Serbia.
It was possibly overlooked that Cameroon felt more pressure playing at ‘home’.
Because when they jetted off to Blida in Algeria, it felt like they had been set free from their shackles. From the first whistle, it was Cameroon on the front foot and they bombarded the Algerian backline.
The football on display was a joy to observe and the pattern of their goals showed just how easily they could carve open defences.
Take Shalulile serious
The 29-year-old’s first-half goal for Namibia forced hosts Cameroon to desperately launch a comeback in a 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at Stade Omnisport Ahmadou Ahidjo.
Shalulile’s performance against Cameroon saw him transferring his club form to the national team. The Mamelodi Sundowns is the top goal-scorer in the Premier Soccer League and has also been key for Sundowns in the Caf Champions League, recently grabbing a brace against Al Ahly.
Adding that to having a huge say for Namibia in the Afcon qualifiers places Shalulile as one of the top-performing strikers on the African continent.
Make better in-game substitutions
That’s not to say Song is flawless. The 46-year-old’s in-game substitutions remain a source of debate. It is rare he changes a game proactively to positive effect. Some of the criticism in this regard against Namibia is debatable, however, as Cameroon were the better team at 1-1 so why change a team playing with the momentum to win the game?
More generally, it is an area in which Song could be more clinical, especially given the depth of options at his disposal. It is, of course, something we are all wiser about with hindsight but ultimately this is why managers occupy the positions they do: to make the right decisions at the right times.
Public opinion is split on whether Song has taken this Cameroon squad as far as he can but let’s not lose sight of the progress made on his watch: Cameroon earned a victory in the World Cup for the first time in 20 years and had 4 points in the group stages since 2002 which is by far better than 1994, 1998, 2010 and 2014.
This generation of players want to represent their country again and are inspired by the sense of opportunity rather than being burdened by the weight of history. Song and Eto’o have been the driving force of redefining this relationship with the national team, creating a positive environment in camp and fostering a genuine emotional investment in Cameroon’s fortunes.
There are better tacticians out there — although Song and Migne have developed significantly in that area — but any potential replacement would have to ensure the same culture endures, and there is certainly no guarantee of that.
If Song has the energy and desire to continue, he is the best option Cameroon have. The Federation and the players certainly want him to stay, while a shorter, 10-month tournament cycle heightens the need for continuity.
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