PAUL Le Guen’s 23-man Cameroon squad for the African Cup of Nations will have a very un-African flavour to it, with just two players currently plying their trade outside Europe.
They are goalkeeper Souleymanou Hamidou and Rigobert Song of Turkish sides Kayserispor and Trabzonspor respectively – and the employers of Le Guen’s 21 other charges is like a roll call of Europe’s most illustrious football clubs. Inter Milan’s Samuel Eto’o is named as captain, alongside Landry N’Guémo of Scottish giants Celtic and Alexandre Song of Arsenal.
Le Guen’s surprise call-ups contains just a handful of surprises, with goalkeeper Guy N’dy Assembé handed his first call up to the Cameroon national squad. Despite not featuring at all during Cameroon’s last four matches of qualifying, Mohammadou Idrissou is recalled. Although an established member of the Cameroon set up, Idrissou has not represented his country since French coach Le Guen took charge, and is included as an effective replacement for Daniel Ngom Kome.
Le Guen is not a man afraid of big decisions, and he has sprung a big surprise in his selection of 18-year-old Joel Matip, the son of former Cameroon player Jean who was born in Germany. The Schalke midfielder scored on his debut for the German club, but is not expected to feature prominently for the Indomitable Lions. Instead, his selection can be compared with that of England’s Theo Walcott for the 2006 World Cup in Germany – designed to give him a taste of the experience, rather than unleash him onto the world stage before he is ready.
Paul Le Guen in pensive mood
So other than these few surprises, Le Guen’s squad pretty much selected itself. In Espanyol’s Idriss Carlos Kameni, Cameroon possess probably Africa’s best goalkeeper, and he is able to call upon a host of names who will be familiar to followers of English football. Newcastle’s former Chelsea man Geremi has been included in the squad, alongside former captain and ex-Liverpool defender Rigobert Song. Song, a veteran with over 100 caps under his belt, will be a vital source of experience to his younger team-mates and remains a key member of the squad – despite losing the captaincy to striker Eto’o.
Further Premier League experience comes in the form of Burnley’s André Bikey and Benoît Assou-Ekotto of Tottenham but there is no place in the squad for Sébastien Bassong, the latter’s team-mate at White Hart Lane. Cameroon’s competent goalkeeper and defence gives their team a strong spine, and that continues into midfield with the inclusion of Arsenal enforcer Alexandre Song. Song has learnt his trade under Arsène Wenger at the Emirates Stadium, and has therefore adapted into a strong ball-winning midfielder who possesses an eye for a pass. His partnership with Eto’o could prove crucial to Cameroon’s hopes.
The French trio of Aurélien Chedjou (of Lille), Lyon’s Jean Makoun and Stéphane Mbia of Marseille could shine in Angola, with the latter in particular tipped to shine as one of the young stars of the tournament by many Cameroon insiders.
Key man: Samuel Eto’o, of Inter
And, of course, captain Eto’o will be Cameroon’s leading light once again as he hopes to cement his reputation as one of world football’s leading lights. Eto’o, three times winner of the African Player of the Year award, cost Inter just over £41m plus Zlatan Ibrahimović when he was prised from Barcelona in the summer and has set his sights on breaking the goalscoring record in an individual tournament.
“I would like to take Cameroon as far as possible, to even win the tournament,” the 29-year-old told Reuters.
“But my first objective will be to score the highest number of goals at a single Nations Cup.”