By Nurudeen Obalola:
The focus as the key Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers approach seems to be all on Cameroon’s physical attributes.
Pretty much every Nigerian football expert who has spoken or written about the double header between the Super Eagles and the Indomitable Lions has highlighted Cameroon’s power and the need for Nigeria to match them physically.
But there is more to these current Lions than just their bulging muscles and ‘jam body’ football’. There’s a whole lot more.
Of course, the Cameroonians are physical specimens to behold, bulging biceps peeking out of their too tight shirts and their intimidating six-packs straining against the tops.
But, beyond their raw strength, these Cameroonians can play. Dem sabi football.
They were not even remotely the favourites to win the last Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon but they defied the odds, in spite of a squad shorn of almost all their big-name stars, to win the continent’s biggest football trophy.
And they did not rely on their much-vaunted physicality alone.
The Lions AFCON team played vibrant, sometimes exhilarating football. They were quick, incisive, skilful, clinical. They had power, but it was not one of their chief attributes.
They had a coach, the Belgian Hugo Broos, who trusted in youth and kept faith with the 21-year-old Fabrice Ondoa in goal along with several young players in key positions.
They had searing pace down the flanks, especially in Christian Bassogog, the left-footed right winger who was voted Player of the Tournament.
They had guile and aerial threat in attack in Vincent Aboubakar, who is extremely comfortable on the ball for one so big, and captain Benjamin Moukandjo.
They also had composure and penetration in midfield in Sebastian Siani and Arnaud Djoum.
Cameroon still have all these players – and Broos, of course – as well as all these qualities.
So, the Super Eagles should be concerned about much more than the Lions’ power.
How does Gernot Rohr deal with Bassogog’s electric pace? Can Elderson Echiejile stop the speedstar? Who will mark Aboubakar without giving away silly fouls in dangerous positions? Do Rohr and his men know if Cameroun are dangerous at set-pieces?
How do the Eagles win the midfield battle? Should Rohr go with the combination of Mikel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi that offers experience and power but little else? Or should Oghenekaro Etebo be included for his direct running and eye for goal that can unsettle the Lions? What about Wilfred Ndidi and his calm approach?
These are some of the things we should be worried about, other than just Cameroon’s raw power. ‘Power for power’ is not always the answer, even if we insist that Cameroon are all about brute strength (they are not).
Not too many years ago, we all watched in awe as a Barcelona team made up mostly of magical gnomes ran rings around giants. Lionel Messi, Andrea Iniesta and Xavi standing on each other would probably not be taller than Rio Ferdinand alone, but it was Messi who scored a header against Rio and another giant centre-back Nemanja Vidic in the 2009 Champions League final.
Messi did not need to outjump them or outmuscle them – he could not anyway. All he needed was the perfect delivery and to be clever in his movement to find space.
That Barca side that won almost everything on offer between 2008 and 2012, and again between 2013 and 2015, showed that a team should most of the time play to its own strengths.
The top scorer in the Nigeria Professional Football League is a wee fella up against Iroko tree-like defenders week in, week out but their superior power hasn’t stopped the MFM FC striker from scoring 17 goals. Mfon Udoh scored 23 in the same league in one season. He is not exactly a hulk too.
By all means scout the opposition to know their strengths, but counter them by pitting your best attributes against theirs.
If the Super Eagles’ best players are Victor Moses with his speed and dribbling skills, Kelechi Iheanacho with his clever movement and clinical finishing, and Moses Simon with his darting runs, then they should all start against Cameroon.
We should not all be caught up in the ‘brute strength’ talk because Cameroon are much more than that.
A team of lightweights with skills, guile, organisation and confidence will anyway be a match for a team of giants who only rely on their power to bully the opposition.
Didn’t David defeat Goliath? David certainly didn’t have to have Terry Crews’ chest to win that battle.
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