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Confed Cup – Cameroon and Germany

I have been following the Fifa Confederations Cup matches in Russia with interest since it started. My main focus has been Cameroon and Germany.

I guess my interest in the Cameroon national team is understandable. Nigeria and the Cameroon will be playing in the month of August in two crucial matches between them to determine the country that will represent Africa from their group at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

For the Cameroonian team, the Confederations Cup provides an excellent opportunity to build up their team and amass useful playing time against high level opposition as preparation for the do-or-die match against the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

Winning the African Cup of Nations earlier in the year and reinforcing that with a competition that is turning out to be a dress rehearsal of what to expect at the World Cup proper next year, has given the team a psychological boost and a chance to prepare better than they did before their Afcon exploits earlier this year. The team was one of the weakest ever presented in the history of Cameroon at the African Championships and winning the competition seemed more a commentary on the declining level of African football at national team level than confirmation of their status as best in the continent.

So many African players ply their trade in the European leagues that there is little time to build rock solid national teams. So, what countries are more often forced to settle for is a hurried assemblage of relative strange bedfellows who come together for a few days and attempt to play like a team. We did not therefore see the best of African football on display and that perhaps explains why Cameroon struggled through all their matches and still ended up as champions of Africa!

Between then and now have been several useful months. The Confederations Cup now provides the team an invaluable opportunity to blend some more before confronting Nigeria, a team that is also struggling psychologically and technically to recover from the humiliating defeat on home ground by South Africa’s Bafana Bafana a few weeks ago.

That is why the World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Cameroon will be ‘war’. The Confederations Cup is a big boost for the Cameroon. They played extremely well, and advertised African football as full of physicality, pace and raw power.

How the Nigerian team will respond to this much improved Cameroon national team that will be playing with greater confidence, will be the ultimate test and will determine their fate in the 2018 World Cup quest.

Cameroon’s exploits in Russia now mean that they pose a much bigger threat to Nigeria than earlier this year when they came out of a slump to become African champions.

A truly intriguing match beckons in Port Harcourt, Nigeria in August. The Super Eagles must beware the Indomitable Lions.

My other interest in Russia are the Germans.

I am learning a thing or two from watching them methodically and steadily climb their way to the apex, once again, of global football, even with an emerging young national team that is surely rehearsing for Russia 2018.

I understand the game of football well enough to see through what Germany have done to the game since 2006 when they hosted and failed to win the World Cup. They had not won the World Cup since they last did in 1990, and to lose the opportunity playing on home soil 16 years later meant something was seriously wrong and something drastic had to be done.

The Germans went back to the drawing board and executed a major turnaround of their domestic football as a panacea to their dwindling fortunes in international football.

It was reported at the time how the German Football Federation assembled over 400 coaches from all over Germany, ‘locked’ them all up in a conference room, and gave them the orders to end their long drought of victories at the highest levels. Getting to the finals was no longer good enough for them. Wining meant everything.

So, in typical German tradition they broke down their football to basic elements and reconstructed it with new solutions.

It took 8 years and two further failures at winning the World Cup to get there. In 2014 all the hard work and restructuring came together and Germany joined a small league of countries that won the World Cup outside the continent to which they belong.

The outcome is what the world is witnessing now in the Confederations Cup – a well-oiled German football machine!

The Germans are presently one step ahead of every team in the world, including probably their greatest rivals – Spain.

Without too much technical fuss a new generation at national team level has taken over and is winning with methodical ease.

Since their resurgence to the top they have won the European and World Cups, and will probably add the Confederations Cup (for the first time in their history) to their haul this weekend if all goes well against Chile.

I have been watching the Germans, their disciplined organisation on the field, mass attack and mass defence, patient build ups, quick counter attacks, less emphasis on the individual players and more on the team formations, all built around a well-organised, disciplined passing game.

I have always known that the main difference between African football and the more advanced football cultures in the world is in the quality of discipline and organisation of the teams, how the entire team play as close to a unit as possible, making every second of the match look like the product of a well-rehearsed script. As with every team sport the most difficult thing to achieve is to succeed in understanding what the team will do at all times, as a unit, with or without the ball. It is great to have exceptional players in a team, but better still to have an exceptional group of players.

African countries should learn from the German example, how they rose from the droughts of the 1990s and early 2000s to the present oasis and how they restructured their domestic football to impact their national teams. It is surely an interesting case study for students of football.

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