THE first round of group games concludes on Tuesday evening as Cameroon take on Mali. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) analyses the best bets on offer.
Cameroon v Mali | Tuesday 19.00 | Eurosport
Cameroon came ever so close to getting my cash when choosing an outright winner of the 2015 Nations Cup. That might sound strange considering the turmoil the team were in just six months ago but boy, they’ve turned the corner in style.
Coach Volker Finke was given a stay of execution after the World Cup debacle and has overseen a quite remarkable turnaround with the Indomitable Lions. Starting by discarding the headlines names, Vinke remodelled his personnel and retooled ahead of the Nations Cup qualifying campaign.
Incredibly, 15 of the 23 players Finke took to Brazil haven’t started a match for the Indomitable Lions since and the new-look side has flourshed with a number of youngsters taking their chance and more seasoned operators taking responsibility. Vincent Aboubakar, Nicholas N’Kolou and Eric Choupo-Moting are a match for most in Africa and they form the core of the new-look venture.
Cameroon are now solid and consistent at the back, effective up front and most importantly, hard working and well-drilled at their high-pressing game. They topped their qualifying pool ahead of the Ivory Coast, were unbeaten in their six games and conceded just once. They’re confident and they’ll be backed by a strong following – Cameroon are playing close to home just off the coast in Malabo during the group-stage
Skipper Stephane M'Bia is suspended for this clash but there’s enough in the Indomitable Lions squad to get them through their curtain-raiser. Cameroon have scored at least twice in eight of their last nine Nations Cup group-games and I’m going to back them to get off to a decent start. We can back Vinke’s men at 11/10 with BetVictor and that’s good enough for me.
Opponents Mali are best described as Stoke-esque. They’re physically imposing, direct, disruptive and ugly but Cameroon have the skills to take them down. Yes, Mali can boast successive third-placed finishes and four semi-finals appearances in their past six showings at the Nations Cup but they’ve regressed in the past few years, in my opinion.
The Eagles made hard work of qualifying, losing at home to Ethiopia and away to Malawi, conceding five goals across those two defeats. A final day win against already qualified Algeria secured their place but it’s far from encouraging form.
Coach Henryuk Kasperczak’s team selection has been littered with inconsistencies (both goalkeepers from qualifying have been axed, for example), and their remains a huge weight on 35-year-old Seydou Keita’s shoulders as the leading emotional and technical light.
And preparations have been well below par too. Firstly, Bordeaux striker Cheick Diabate's late injury meant that the lanky forward would miss the competition, secondly training equipment arrived behind the team, only appearing in Malabo on Saturday and thirdly, they were completely outplayed in a 3-0 loss to South Africa during their final warm-up game. Yeah, hardly inspiring.
The Eagles simply don’t have the tools to unlock opposition defences. They rely on their physical nature and aerial threat to get on the end of crosses and set-pieces and with nine defeats in their last 17 outings, it’s hard to find any faith in Mali.
Cameroon v Mali – Cameroon to win (11/10 BetVictor)