Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0 in the Arena da Dunas in Natal to go second in group A. Under torrential rains, the match was more than a damp squib with the result never out of doubt until the final whistle. Mexico were direct and quick, while Cameroon sat off and lacked edge.
Miguel Herrera’s attack-minded instincts meant that Mexico went for a unconventional 5-4-1 which, in reality, was more top-heavy than bottom. Captain Rafael Marquez was the Libero, the sweeper who controlled the game from the back with added assurance from the holding midfielder Jose Juan Vazquez. Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar were the wing-backs, an area from where most of Mexico’s attacks started. Oribe Peralta’s physicality and lesser mobility gave him the nod ahead of Javier Hernandez. Hector Herrera, Giovani dos Santos and Andres Guardado formed an fluid looking attacking midfield behind Peralta. Francisco Javier and Hector Moreno formed a symmetrical right foot-left foot center back pairing ahead of Guillermo Ochoa in goal.
Cameroon coach Volker Finke had no choice but to go for a flat midfield in an more traditional 4-3-2-1. Benjamin Moukandjo and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting are strikers by trade, but were employed on either side of captain Samuel Eto’o on the wings. In one of the flattest midfield combinations ever, Cameroon went for the unfashionable trio of Stephen Mbia, Eyong Enoh and Alex Song as they basically looked to contain the Mexicans and hit on the counter. 21-year-old Cedric Djeugoue started on Cameroon’s right, beside the N’Koulou-Chedjou duo and former Tottenham defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto was the left-back.
Mexico pressed aggressively from the midfield and beyond and unsettled the Cameroonians right from kick-off. The full-backs, Layun and Aguilar, afforded little space to the likes of Choupo-Moting while Samuel Eto’o got doubled up from behind whenever he had the ball. The hard-working Hector Herrera led Mexico’s offensive pressing along with striker Peralta, forcing the Africans into mistakes in their own half. Mexico’s high-pressing meant more mistakes from Cameroon in their own half, which resulted in half-chances for the Americans. Mexico’s intensity and early impetus saw them hit the target 3 times inside the first half itself, with a further 2 shots off-target. Mexico’s quick recycling of the ball was evident too; they were a bit wasteful as Peralta and co strayed offside 5 times in the first half. This clearly showed Mexico’s intent and Cameroon’s slumber, but wastefulness and lack of intelligent movement meant that it remained scoreless for long.
CAMEROON’S DEEP DEFENSE
Cameroon counted on their strong-looking midfield to cover the last line of defense as they sat pretty deep almost throughout the whole game. Even after conceding the goal, Cameroon’s shape changed little giving them little to no chance of a comeback. Even though the Africans played with two banks (a four-man defense and a three-man midfield) and sat back inviting the Mexicans, the trio of Song, Mbia and Enoh were caught in two minds as neither had pure attacking intent and hence left acres of space behind the lines for the Mexican playmakers to exploit. Enoh, Mbia and Song took turns to foray forward, often leaving them undecided when not in possession. A direct result of the Cameroon midfield leaving behind space was Mexico’s goal. Hector Herrera was afforded space, and he caused maximum damage.
Cameroon looked to sit back and play the physical game, and hit Mexico on the counter. A spate of initial cynical fouls from the deeper-lying Enoh underlined their physical gameplan, while Song was particularly ineffective in finding players ahead of him, something which can also be attributed to the aforementioned Mexican pressing. Song played only 2 of his 29 passes forward, showing how difficult it became to play around the harrying Mexicans. Such a poor showing from star player Song meant that Cameroon were bound for defeat, and it was only a matter of time before they conceded.
MIGUEL LAYUN AND MEXICO’S ALTERNATE PLAN
One major threat from Mexico as stated pre-match was the motoring left-back Layun. He was supposed to be Mexico’s more obvious attacking outlet, and he did not disappoint. Layun’s runs up and down Mexico’s left meant that the likes of Marquez and Herrera always had a spare man out wide to pass. Layun made some excellent runs in behind the Cameroon midfield and caused troubles for the young Djeugoue, so much so that the hapless Djeugoue was substituted off at half-time. Not only in an attacking sense, Layun was immense at the back too. Whenever Mexico lost the ball, he would sprint back to his starting position, and allowed no breathing space for Moukandjo with help from the left-sided center-back Moreno.
Mexico were also seen trying diagonal balls into the Cameroon box, something which wasn’t dealt with pretty well by the Africans. Herrera in particular tried too much of those early crosses into the box, without much effect though. One similar chance was converted by Dos Santos, but was ruled offside.
Mexico had no real trouble holding onto the lead, and with center-back Francisco Javier in fine form, Cameroon’s chances were at best, limited. Francisco made 11 clearances, the most in the match, and was impressive in keeping the lid on Eto’o. It was a classic case of the ‘goals changing games’ adage; Mexico who were so proactive before the goal, started slowing the game down with substitutions and simulations. While Cameroon simply didn’t have enough firepower to trouble the Mexican defense.
*The starting XIs were made using Tactical Pad
*All the maps were borrowed from Squawka