One of the undisputed giants of the continent, four-time African champions Cameroon were disappointed to fall at the quarter-final stage of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations to eventual champions Egypt. Even more worrying for the Indomitable Lions was their slow start to the tournament and the way they failed to really stamp their authority on any of the matches they competed in.
It was a surprisingly inconsistent performance for a team that had been going from strength to strength and hadn’t lost a match since coach Paul Le Guen took over the team in the middle of 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying. But as well as new questions, new options have emerged as a generation of youngsters fight to break their way into the team. "The younger players in the team have shown that they are capable of taking over from the older generation. They proved they can play with the best," said Mallorca’s Achille Webo after the team was eliminated.
Cameroon, who finished second at the last Cup of Nations in 2008, slumped to a shock 1-0 defeat to Gabon to open the 2010 tournament. But it was the only match in which the Lions were to be held scoreless, and they beat Zambia 3-2 before coming from behind twice to draw 2-2 with Tunisia to find their way into the quarter-finals from Group D. Losing out to Zambia on goal difference for top of the group, they were drawn against the Egyptians ultimately losing 3-1 after extra time.
There remains no shortage of talent in the Cameroonian side, and that goes well beyond world-class striker Samuel Eto’o. Webo is a hard-working and agile striker up front, and he showed skill to set up two goals against Zambia. Achille Emana again demonstrated a knack for wreaking havoc in opposing midfields and creating attacks, even scoring the team’s only goal against Egypt. Mohamadou Idrissou also worked well with Eto’o up front in the group stage, and it was his late winner against Zambia that set the team back on course.
The younger players in the team have shown that they are capable of taking over from the older generation. They proved they can play with the best.
Germany-based Georges Mandjeck, 21, showed talent in an attacking midfield role and even defensive midfielder Landry N'Guemo proved he can get in on the scoring with the all-important equaliser against Tunisia that sent the team into the last eight. And though he didn’t score, Alexandre Song proved he is the new heart of the Lions team. His composure and coverage from defensive midfield were invaluable for the team that seemed too often caught in two minds.
If Arsenal’s Alex Song is headed up the charts of Africa’s finest players, his uncle Rigobert Song seems to be headed in the other direction. The 33-year-old central defender, who brings so much to the table in terms of experience, had started 34 consecutive matches for Cameroon in the Cup of Nations before coming off the bench against Tunisia and not playing at all against Egypt. Of course this gave a chance to 19-year-old Nicolas N'Koulou, who performed well in both matches. Right-sided stalwart Geremi was also dropped against Tunisia before starting in the quarter-final. However, it was his poor back-pass that allowed Egypt’s super-sub Gedo to score in extra time, and the former Newcastle player was removed from the contest soon after. Whether this is a permanent change for Le Guen remains to be seen. He did give every player a try in Angola, and he also dropped more experienced players like Jean Makoun and Stephane Mbia from midfield against Egypt for the likes of Mandjeck and Enoh Eyong.
Cameroon will play a friendly against Italy in March before meeting Japan, Denmark and the Netherlands in Group E of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.