BOTH opening Group A games at the African Cup of Nations finished 1-1, leaving the pool wide open ahead of the second round of fixtures. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews Wednesday's meeting between Cameroon and Guinea-Bissau.
Cameroon v Guinea-Bissau | Saturday 19:00 | Eurosport
I put the knife into Cameroon pre-tournament, suggesting the Indomitable Lions were arriving at the African Cup of Nations with one of their worst squads in my own living memory and was critical of their standing as Group A favourites.
Yet I was impressed with the way the four-time winners equipped themselves in their opener against Burkino Faso, particularly in the first 45 minutes as Cameroon played on the front foot with Benjamin Moukandjo and Jacques Zoua lead the line with aplomb.
Moukandjo superbly curled a free-kick into the left corner to give Hugo Broos’ boys a 35th minute advantage and the Belgian boss’ only regret was Cameroon’s inability to finish their opponents off when they had their chances.
Clinton N'Jie was the Indomitable Lions’ main culprit – twice fluffing opportunities when well placed – and having been given numerous repeated warnings from set-pieces – Cameroon’s ill-discipline eventually told as they conceded a soft goal from a dead-ball situation.
Cameroon’s lack of decision in defence
Cameroon arrived in Gabon without eight players who rejected the call-up. One of those absent is Joel Matip and it looks like he will be sorely missed. A lack of organisation, discipline and decisiveness in defence cost the Indomitable Lions although they might have got away with it had they taken their opportunities.
Broos has since urged his squad to focus on the Guinea-Bissau encounter to right those wrongs but Cameroon’s current crop have tended to fall flat on the continental stage too often of late. They crashed out in the group stages on their last attempt in 2015, while failing to qualify in 2012 and 2013.
In fact, the Indomitable Lions are winless in their last six AFCON outings (W0-D4-L2) and having conceded 17 shots to Burkino Faso in their curtain-raiser – seven from inside their own penalty box – I’m still unprepared to completely gloss over my pre-tournament predictions.
Wild Dogs upset the odds
Minnows Guinea-Bissau stunned hosts Gabon by pulling off a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the tournament. Juary Soares netted the equaliser for the Wild Dogs with a diving header in the 90th minute but in truth, it was no more than the debutants deserved.
Baciro Cande’s charges played without fear, frustrated their opponents throughout and took their chance to continue what has been a fairytale run. Few predicted Guinea-Bissau would take anything from their group games but they arguably looked the more dangerous in a game that only livened up after half-time.
After going 1-0 down to the hosts, the Wild Dogs might have folded. But the rags continued to plug away and, if they show the same grit, guts and determination, they may pull off a few more surprises before the end of January, starting here.
More surprises to come?
Guinea-Bissau pressed high, snapped into their tackles and former Everton youth player Junior Francisco particularly caught the eye on his first cap, prowling the midfield and breaking up play effectively.
Toni Silva, once at Liverpool, also impressed, showing glimpses of skill and creativity – if he grows in confidence, along with skipper Zezinho, this team could be set to upset the odds once more.
Coach Cande was understandably jubilant post-match but he reiterated his side wasn’t here to make up the numbers and following their opening day heroics, I’m keen to keep the Wild Dogs onside here at a nice price.
The betting angles
Cameroon have suffered only two defeats in 26 games against African nations but their past 25 matches have tended to be tight affairs. Only three of the Indomitable Lions’ last 25 games have been settled by a margin of two goals or more and that presents an Asian Handicap opportunity.
Guiana-Bissau can be supported with a +1 start at 11/13 (BetVictor). Supporting this selection would see our stake returned should Cameroon win a one-goal margin with a draw or victory for the underdogs paying us out – the only way in which we’d lose our stake is if Cameroon win by two or more goals.
Elsewhere, five of the first eight group-games at AFCON 2017 concluded in draws and with both Group A encounters ending 1-1, I can’t resist backing a repeat at 7/1 (BetVictor). Four of Cameroon’s most recent five internationals have provided profit for 1-1 correct score hunters.