Saturday, June 19, 2010

"The Lions sleep tonight..."

THE WORLD Cup schedules are giving us night-time matches which make for ideal bedtime viewing – last night’s England-Algeria game soporific, tonight’s between Cameroon and Denmark just exhausting.
In their third meeting ever, the two teams finished 2-1 for the third time – yet it could have ended five apiece, at least, with both defences seemingly keen to bump up 2010’s slender goal average.
Cameroon, haphazard at both ends of the field, become the first country eliminated from this year’s competition – one African team down, another five soon to go?
Hopefully not so fast, though Ghana’s underwhelming draw earlier today, against an Australia team yet again reduced to ten men, was a setback for continent’s only winners so far.
Cameroon could have won several games over with the chances they created – with a little help from the Danes – but squandered during 90 crazy minutes tonight.
Instead, the Indomitable Lions proved all too, er, domitable.
Pierre Webo was especially wasteful, while the returning Achille Emana added much-needed drive and verve in midfield, yet only scuffed efforts when shooting on goal.
Substitute Mohammadou Idrissou could have scored a couple when introduced late on, only to see the ball pop off the top of his head and on to the top of the net, moments after his shot had rebounded over and off the prone Christian Poulsen’s face.
In the post-match press conference, Paul Le Guen insisted he had no regrets – other than their premature elimination, of course.
But he came close to admitting the players had been driving him mad, saying only partly diplomatically: ‘All teams are difficult to manage so I don’t want to compare. It’s a great job - difficult but a great job, even in this case.’
At least he was allowed to hold the press conference himself this time, after Samuel Eto’o had conducted a players’ briefing earlier in the week.
It had also been suggested that Eto’o was picking the team – or at least strongly suggesting he do so – and, sure enough, Emana and Alex Song both started tonight, having been bafflingly exiled for the opening match against Japan.
Le Guen’s line-up last Saturday was supposedly his attempt to quell dressing-room dissent over his alleged alienation of the ageing Rigobert Song, but only seems to have stirred up further friction.
Song initially seemed to bring more poise to the Cameroon midfield tonight, and did contribute one last-ditch six-yard-block from Tomasson – though his error had gifted possession in the first place.
Yet neither defence nor midfield ever looked especially sturdy, with Cameroon’s self-harmingly high line invariably vulnerable to Danish counter-attacks.
Dennis Rommedahl was the most dangerous and beneficial outlet.
He first sprinted on to Simon Kjaer’s cross-field pass, sliding the ball across the box for Nicklas Bendtner to slide in and equalise Cameroon’s opener by Eto’o.
Former Charlton flop Rommedahl then hit what proved to be the winner, enjoying what seemed an aeon to turn inside Jean Makoun and swipe the ball past the ‘keeper with his supposedly-weaker left foot.
Not that that goal, as early as the 61st minute, ever felt likely to be the game’s last, as too many clod-hopping touches by the Danish defence kept allowing Cameroon attackers to squirm their way through – only to worm the ball high or wide.
Danish coach Morten Olsen looked as furious as a winner can be when Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrondia finally brought the harem-scarem entertainment to an end.
He afterwards admitted: ‘We had far too many elementary mistakes we made. I can’t allow that from my players.’
And overworked centre-back Daniel Agger – bemusingly named man of the match rather than, say, the more influential Rommedahl – confessed: ‘Particularly in the first half, it’s one of the worst performances we’ve given in a long time.
‘If they were a bit more clinical, they would have scored more goals and we would have been out of it in the firsrt half.
‘We tried to fight, and we all stand together – sometimes it becomes a bit of a kick and rush, kick and rush, up and down, up and down, and that’s not how we want to play really.
‘We got three points – that’s the most positive thing I can say.’
Bendtner, one of three Danes carrying injuries, did at least last to the end this time, having scored his goal and just about won a battle of North London rivals with Sebastien Bassong – who, on a night of Cameroon losers, lost worst than most.
The Arsenal striker was especially exercised by the Tottenham defender tugging at his shirt – presumably because Bendtner prefers publicly undressing himself.
But both Danish goals tonight benefitted from another Tottenham man doing wrong, the often dozy and indifferent Benoit Assou-Ekotto caught recklessly out of position both times.
Bassong, too, found himself virtually in a different postcode as then Danes whipped forward in counter-attacks more effective than their own defending.
When asked if the (substituted) Bassong would play against the Netherlands, Le Guen would only say: ‘Well, leave me a little time and we’ll have to see whether he too is keen on returning to the side. We’ll see.’
While perhaps wishing either he or his two North London-based, Cameroon-convert defenders had decided to stick around in their native France instead.

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