by Agnes Amondi
The countdown has began for Cameroon womens football team as their doubleheader intercontinental playoff against Chile nears. This will be a battle for the remaining slot for the Tokyo Olympics scheduled in the summer, despite fears that the games could be cancelled.
Host nation Japan has had a surge in coronavirus cases, which is why the games were pushed back from last summer to this, but Olympic officials still maintain that the largest sporting fiesta in the world, will go on.
And so does Cameroon and Chile. Both continue to prepare for a fixture that could see the former return to the games for the second time since London 2012, while the latter qualify for its first Olympic games.
The Central Africans missed out on an automatic ticket to Zambia last year and will need to be at their fluent best if they want to board the plane to Japan.
Already, Indomitable Lionesses head coach Alan Djeumfa has summoned 34 players to camp; 22 are home based while 12 ply their trade in foreign leagues. So what can win Cameroon the tie?
Here are three things you need to know ahead of the duel
Away form record
In all the three qualifying rounds – second to fourth as Cameroon received a bye in the first round – they are yet to conjure up a win away from home. Djeumfa charges have lost two matches against DR Congo and Zambia and drawn two against Ethiopia and Ivory Coast. They’ve also scored three goals only on foreign soil.
Santiago will not be an easy hunting ground for the visitors. Within the last 12 months, Zambia is the only side to have defeated La Roja on home soil. This was in a friendly match played in November. Though important to note that international games across sport were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, Chile have been in prep mode and will definitely be a hard nut to crack. Which is why the next point is crucial.
Home advantage must count
It’s possible that fans might be allowed into the stadium with strict COVID-19 protocols put in place. Fans have been allowed to attend the ongoing African Nations Championships (CHAN) in Cameroon. Granted that CAF are in charge of the tournament and FIFA will be for the play-off, but the world governing body might just give the green light for fans to walk in. If it happens, it will be a massive boost for the team.
That not withstanding, the Indomitable Lionesses have been imperious at home. They have won three out of four games and drew one on home soil in the last four quali games. They start this continental play-off at home on February 18. It is important that they capitalise on this. Anything shot of a win might be disastrous as Djeumfa’s squad have found it very difficult when they play away.
A home win with a healthy victory margin and a clean sheet is the ideal scenario as it strengthens their position going into the second leg.
Cameroon can go toe to toe with Chile
If you’ve watched Chile before, you know what to expect. Some very technical football with a lot of ball possession. Wingers Yanara Aedo and María José Urrutia, if available will be vital in executing this plan.
Chilean and Paris Saint Germaine (PSG) keeper Christine Endler, the most prolific player on the side was not part of José Letelier side that went into camp between January 4th and 9th as the gaffer invited home based players. Other key players to look out for are midfielder Karen Araya and striker Daniel Zamora.
Chile’s worst result against an African side was a 2-2 draw against Cameroon in 2018 when the two met in a friendly in Santiago. It’s three years on but I think its an even contest. Either teams has a chance.
At their level best, the Central Africans can notch a win. Moreso if their headline players bring out their A-game. Ajara Njoya Nchout whose scored the most goals with five has been on form since joining Spanish giants Atletico de Madrid. Her influence, together with that of Gabrielle Oungene, Catherine Mbengono and Ngah Manga upfront needs to produce the returns.
Tenerife midfielder Feudjio Raissa is back in the fold after her recovery from a knee injury she sustained in October that ruled her out of Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia clash.
Key to the Indomitable Lionesses fight will be to break off Chile’s aesthetic ‘tiki-taka’ style of play. Cut off the ball supplier to the wings as well as denying them space on the flanks. And basically, having a strong back line and a supporting cast in other departments that leaves nothing to chance. This is not to say that Cameroon are out to ‘pack the bus’ but they’ll have a lot of defending to do. At home, they have to control proceedings and away, make life as difficult as possible for Letelier’s charges.
It’s anyone’s ‘final’.
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