Though the opening match between Brazil and Croatia will be the key clash of Group A, both Mexico and Cameroon still have a lot to play for as they both look to secure an early three points.
Cameroon set the bench mark when they became the first African quarter finalists in 1990, but have never managed to repeat that achievement; they have qualified for four of five subsequent tournaments, and have faced group stage exits at each one.
Mexico’s own qualification campaign was calamitous and they are fortunate to be in Brazil. However now they are here, El Tri have an opportunity to get out of the group and finally have stability under Miguel Herrera after announcing him their fourth coach in just six months.
His stubbornness when it comes to his formation and his players is exactly what Mexico needed and, with the squad galvanised, there is at least hope in Brazil although not necessarily expectation.
Brazil will be favourites, but the rest of the group is wide open. Mexico triumphed over Ecuador but have suffered narrow defeats in subsequent warm up games, with Miguel Herrera rotating his squad to find the best formula after such a short tenure thus far. Cameroon have done similarly under Volker Finke, with the veteran German changing formations and getting mixed results; on the one hand a draw with Germany suggests they can cut it with the best, but defeat to Paraguay suggests otherwise.
Avoiding Brazil in the opening game though has provided both sides with an opportunity to take at least something from the game, and a cautious approach can be expected as neither side wants to lose the opener. However both sides will also understand the importance of winning with stiffer tests to come, and so will have to ‘go for the jugular’ if the game is still tied in the latter stages. A win for one side could keep their hopes alive, while defeat could foreshadow an early exit as things don’t get any easier from here.
Mexico are likely to play a 5-3-2 that becomes a 3-5-2 on the attack, and so wide options become important. The same can be said for Cameroon, who will get the ball to wide pacy outlets to supply Samuel Eto’o, who continues to lead the line for the Indomitable Lions despite father creeping up on the potent forward.
However both sides have experimented with 4-4-2 in recent friendlies, and may opt for two banks of four as they look for solidity from the off.
Either way both sides will be competing in the centre of midfield, where the game may just be won and lost. Both sides know the value of winning the game, and so will look to win the ball in the middle of the park and channel it towards their respective danger men. If both teams choose to deploy a three man midfield it could make for an interesting battle, with a tight game set to follow.
Miguel Herrera prefers home-based players that fit his system, and so may sacrifice talent for tactical discipline. However late bloomer Oribe Peralta offers Mexico a goal-getting outlet who could genuinely threaten a strong Cameroon backline, while pressing high up to force mistakes. With a midfield battle key to the game, Porto’s Hector Herrera will be charged with carrying the ball and turning defence into attack, while wideman Miguel Layun, capable as either full-back or winger, brings the pace and quality required to make Mexico effective on the break.
Cameroon will be looking to shut out opposition if they want to rectify their recent failures in World Cups, and will look to Alex Song and Eyong Enoh to shackle Mexico, while former Aston Villa midfielder Jean Makoun will be the one expected to link midfield and attack. Eto’o is obviously the natural goalscorer, but left winger Benjamin Moukandjo offers genuine width and pace for Cameroon, and has experience across Ligue 1; with Eto’o ageing and perhaps not as influential this time round, it is the perfect opportunity for Moukandjo to become a national hero and fire his country to the next round.
There is a fine line between avoiding defeat and needing to win, and both sides ideally need to take three points from this game. Cameroon will remain tight early on, with physical prowess giving them an advantage, but lack the necessary cohesion between midfield and attack to give Eto’o and Co. enough clear cut chances, and so the former Chelsea man will need to be on point from the off.
However Mexico do carry more of a threat going forward, with emergence of Peralta making the Mexican veteran a very real threat, while Cameroon’s own veteran in Eto’o is on the decline. Such freshness from a player in his early thirties a la Rickie Lambert could revive Mexico’s attacking threat, while skillful partners such as Giovanni dos Santos and Javier Hernandez could provide that spark in front of goal; the latter is the perfect impact sub, and could get the vital goal as Cameroon start to dwindle.
A tight game with few goals that will open up towards the end, Mexico have a little more quality in their ranks to ultimately win the game. Peralta could sparkle on the international stage, but Hernandez could repeat his performance against France four years ago and come off the bench to grab the vital goal to guarantee Mexico get off to a good start.
Prediction: Mexico 2-1 Cameroon
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