Cameroon and Ghana played out a goalless draw in their Group F match at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) on Saturday night. The stalemate in the clash between two countries on the Gulf of Guinea leaves both in the top two qualification places of the group. Both will progress if neither loses to Benin and Guinea-Bissau in their final match.
Kwesi Appiah made three changes to the Black Stars side which drew 2-2 with Benin in the opening game. At centre back, John Boye was suspended after his red card and was replaced by Jonathan Mensah as Kasim Adams’ partner.
At left back, Lumor Agbenyenu was left out, meaning a recall for Abdul Rahman Baba for his first competitive minutes for Ghana since the 2017 Afcon. In front of Baba, Kwadwo Asamoah was back in the side with Thomas Agyepong missing after picking up an injury after 35 minutes against Benin.
Cameroon coach, Clarence Seedorf made four changes to the side which beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0. Yaya Banana was replaced by Gaeton Bong in defence, whilst right-back Joyskim Dawa’s place went to the more adventurous Collins Fai.
Further forward, captain Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was only fit enough for a place on the bench so Clinton N’Jie took his place, whilst number ten Arnaud Djoum was left out for tactical reasons with an extra defender in Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik selected instead for what was expected to be a tough game.
Stephane Bahoken, scorer of the second goal against Guinea-Bissau, again had to make do with a place on the bench.
SEEDORF SITS OFF
From the start of the game, Cameroon’s plan was clear. Having made several tactical changes to his lineup, his side set up in a 3-4-3 formation in possession, which quickly became a 5-4-1 when defending.
Bong was selected on the left of a back three, and paid close attention to Andre Ayew in the early stages, even tracking the Ghana captain when he dropped into deep midfield areas.
Cameroon did not look to press particularly aggressively when Richard Ofori had the ball. The Ghana central defenders, Mensah and Adams would split wide to receive, with Mubarak Wakaso dropping in-between to get on the ball. This left Thomas Partey as the lone player covering the centre, making anything but building wide a major challenge.
Seedorf’s men dropped into their own half, looking to close off passing angles and draw Ghana out. Their plan out of possession was seemingly to wait for a clear pressing trigger, such as a misplaced pass or heavy touch, then winning the ball and finding their two inside forwards on transition.
Ghana were not the only side looking to play short from their goalkeeper. With three central defenders, Cameroon were able to comfortably pass the ball across the back especially with Andre Onana proficient with his feet thanks to his Barcelona and Ajax Amsterdam upbringing.
It didn’t take long for the Ayew brothers to stop closing down and instead drop off. This led to long spells of possession with very little penetration. With Ghana having Asamoah tuck inside to supplement midfield when the ball was on the far side, and screening passes into Cameroon star man, Christian Bassogog when the ball was on his side, they were rarely trouble despite the Indomitable Lions having 58.7% of the ball in the first half.
The half ended up seeing two teams with lots of time on the ball but neither opponent actually showing any interest in closing down when they lose it. Slow, relatively pointless possession from both teams acted more as a defensive mechanism than one to get the ball into the final third.
The only exceptions were occasional moments of wide interplay between N’Jie and Ambroise Oyongo on the Cameroon left, with the latter delivering hopeful crosses, or when Baba got forward untracked and could overload Fai. Jordan Ayew’s movement was also good to pull into the channels but there was not much support after Christian Atsu’s early injury ended his evening.
OPENINGS FROM ERRORS
In a first half lacking much ambition or creativity, most of the reasonable openings came from errors. Ghana won a corner after the Ayews combined to force an error from Fai. From the resulting delivery, a poor clearance led to a shooting chance for Partey, but he fired wide.
Cameroon had two good chances of their own in the first period. First, Bassagogo came inside off the left and played a pass for Karl Toko Ekambi to run onto, but Mensah denied him with last-gasp challenge. Then, Rahman was caught on the ball after a heavy first touch by Bassogogo who received a return from Ekambi and struck powerfully at goal, but Ofori saved excellently.
BIG NAMES ENTER
The second half played out in slightly different fashion as Ghana looked to push their front three of the Ayew brothers and substitute Samuel Owusu onto Cameroon’s back three to disrupt their buildup. At times, this was effective, but Onana was excellent at drawing an attacker and then finding his free defender.
Andre-Frank Anguissa was impressive in the second half, bypassing pressure from Wakaso by running with the ball, or passing well under pressure. He deservedly took the official man of the match award.
Seedorf decided to alter the shape of his side after 74 minutes, bringing on Choupo-Moting as a number ten, withdrawing Bong, and moving to a 4-2-3-1 shape. The extra presence up front saw Mensah need to make a great block from Bassagog’s powerful drive, and Cameroon looked for early crosses from both flanks into the box, especially with Bahoken also thrown on.
Soon after, veteran Asamoah Gyan came on, replacing Asamoah, whose role has mostly been defensive, aiding Baba or thickening central midfield by tucking in. Gyan went up front with Andre Ayew going wide. Ghana could now play more direct passes forward.
Most of the late chances were for Ghana after Anguiss was taken off. Substitute Owusu Kwabena struck the bar after being introduced and immediately intercepting a stray pass, before striking the crossbar.
Then, Andy Yiadom went close after playing a one-two with Jordan Ayew as Kwabena and Gyan’s presence occupied the defence, before the latter ran onto a bouncing ball but saw his declining pace let him down, allowing Kana-Biyik to make a great recovery tackle on his Kayserispor teammate.
This was one of the most conservative games of the tournament, with neither side wanting to lose, therefore making defensive team changes from their opening matches.
Whilst both sides put on their experienced attackers from the bench and went to more adventurous formations late on, a draw suited both sides and the game petered out with relatively few moments of excitement.
Tactically, neither side managed to draw the other side out of their disciplined shape by passing across the back, nor create counter-attacking space to use their attacking pace. This was nullification and safety first. In these tougher games, Cameroon may really miss their injury top forward, Vincent Aboubakar. A draw was a fair result here.
By Grant de Smidt