Can Conceicao guide Cameroon to the World Cup qualifying play-off round?

·      The Portuguese gaffer has the chance to make history and state a claim- one that would be enough to convince fans he will continue to deliver on a regular basis.

By Beng Emmanuel

The bout of pain was intense after Cameroon-the continent’s most capped nation at the World Cup with 7 appearances-failed to qualify for the quadrennial 32-nation tournament in 2018.

It was only the second time since 1986 that the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon couldn’t advance to the World Cup finals. That disappointment came barely seven months after they won their fifth continental crown beating Egypt in the 2017 AFCON final in Gabon.

Not that they had a dignified ending. After a nervous 1-1 draw with Nigeria in Yaoundé on September 4, 2017 their chances were skinned off.  The result meant the then reigning African champions with just three points from four matches could no longer finish top of their Group.

Three years have gone by and the Indomitable Lions are again in another complicated situation. The 2021 AFCON host trail leaders Ivory Coast by just a point and must win their final game to keep their chances of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.  

The Indomitable Lions have been here before. But after a long wait often shrouded in struggle and strife, can Cameroon finally find its way back to the Worlds’ foremost football competitions?

The Conceicao effect

Cameroonians had barely processed the departure of Clarence Seedorf and how to move on when Antonio Conceicao was appointed head coach of the national team in 2019.

Like his predecessor, the 59-year-old Portuguese gaffer was in his first experience on African soil and with a national as well. Conceicao started his managerial career in 1999 and has been in charge of at least 12 clubs in Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus.  

Although many didn’t see Antonio Conceicao as an ideal choice to accomplish the country’s lofty plans, the national team has seemingly enjoyed a new lease under his command.

His figures are impressive. In 15 games played, Cameroon has recorded 8 wins, 5 draws and 2 defeats. A total of 20 goals have been scored, 7 conceded and a remarkable 10 clean sheets.

According to Kick442, 10 different players have scored for the national team since Conceicao took over with Vincent Aboubakar netting five times. But the most impressive of them all is certainly Moumi Ngamaleu who seems to be completely reinvigorated under Conceicao. The Young Boys forward has scored twice with eight assists.  Conceicao’s sense of attacking football and tactical nous is responsible for such revival.

When Coach Antonio Conceicao’s contract was renewed in August 2021, he was tasked to ensure Cameroon qualifies for the World Cup finals and win the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil.

He is close to achieving his first major objective. But his plans could be thwarted by an ambitious Ivorian squad packed full of talents. After defeating Nigeria during an international match courtesy a Zambo Anguissa winner in June, this probably is his biggest test of all the games he has been in charge of and most challenging of the year.

The main objective here is for Cameroon to reach next year’s play-off round where Africa’s five representatives for the World Cup in Qatar will be known.

Antonio Conceicao has the chance to state a claim, one that would be enough to convince fans he will continue to deliver on a regular basis.

Build-up the grand finale

Cameroon began the second round qualifiers of the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a decent 2-nil win against the Flames of Malawi in their first competitive game at the Olembe Sport Complex.

They began to feel some sense of optimism but then reality struck them when they lost to Ivory Coast 1-2 in Abidjan on match day two. That has so far been the only time they ever dropped points in the qualifier process. They bounced back with an impressive 3-1 win against Mozambique and completed a double against the Mambas to keep up the pressure on leaders Ivory Coast.

They maintained their chances of qualifying for the play-off round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers after dismantling Malawi 4-0 in their penultimate group game.  

Two first half goals from captain Vincent Aboubakar and Franck Zambo Anguissa plus a second half brace from Christian Bassogog helped the five time African champions to a crucial win in Johannesburg, South Africa.

A victory and some stellar performances that coach Antonio and his boys are keen to repeat when they take on Ivory Coast on Tuesday November 16 at the Japoma Stadium in Douala.

Apart from winning Tuesday’s cracker and advancing to the play-offs, the Cameroonian national team is hoping to avenge their defeat in Abidjan and condemn Ivory Coast to a costly defeat to finish top of group D.

The Indomitable Lions are bidding for their record eight appearance at the World Cup finals.

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