Denmark 2-1 Cameroon: Cameroon’s lopsided shape plays into the hands of Rommedahl

June 19, 2010

The basic formations, showing Cameroon's lack of a left-sided midfielder

A game unlike any that had gone before it in this tournament – this was open, exciting, frantic and stretched. Denmark narrowly deserved the win, Cameroon are slightly unfortunate to be out so early, but are no great loss to the tournament.

Denmark’s side featured significant changes from the first game against Holland. Out went Thomas Enevoldsen and Thomas Kahlenberg, and in came two veterans – Jesper Gronkjaer on the left, and Jon Dahl Tomasson behind the striker. This resulted in a change to a more attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation, that sometimes appeared as 4-1-3-1-1.

Cameroon also played a team filled with players who missed out against Japan – they opted for a lopsided 4-3-1-2 formation, with Samuel Eto’o getting his wish by moving to a central striking role. Alex Song came into the centre of midfield, whilst Geremi started in a right-sided role. Achille Emana played behind the two strikers, presumably with some responsibility of covering the left, whilst the other two central midfielders took up fairly central positions. Consequently, Cameroon had no permanent left-sided midfield player.

This didn’t matter much in an attacking sense – they were dominating the centre of midfield early on, and with Geremi stretching the play on the right, Cameroon were finding plenty of room to create, whilst Samuel Eto’o and Achille Webo were making intelligent runs in behind the defenders.

Pressing

The game was remarkably open and both sides were finding space between the lines. Denmark were pressing well in their own half, but Cameroon were passing the ball much better than in their first game, and were closing down the Danish defenders, who often looked to start quick attacks by hitting long, diagonal balls to the wide players.

This is FIFA's "average positions" diagram from the first half, showing how Mbia (19) had support from Geremi (8), but Assou-Ekotto (2) was left on his own

Closing down high up the pitch led directly to Cameroon’s first goal. Christian Poulsen played a casual pass after receiving the ball from Thomas Sorensen, Emana seized on the loose ball and played it square to Eto’o who fired home to give Cameroon a deserved early lead.

After that, Denmark took control of the game; they were able to hold onto possession more easily because their full-backs were able to get forward and support the midfield with no out-and-out wingers to pin them back. Denmark spread the play from flank to flank and forced Cameroon’s central midfield to shift from side to side. Jon Dahl Tomasson was not at his best, but was involved in Denmark’s build-up play more than Cameroon’s two strikers, who stayed high up the pitch, and therefore Denmark were able to work the ball into the final third more intelligently.

Lack of a left-sided player costs Cameroon defensively

Cameroon’s lopsided shape had a clear problem defensively, which was essentially where the game was won. On the right, Geremi was covering the right-back Stepanie Mbia well, but on the other side, Benoit Assou-Ekotto had no-one to help take on Dennis Rommedahl. A quick bit of a mid-game analysis suggested that Denmark’s threat was always going to come from that side, and eventually Denmark naturally looked to exploit the numerical advantage on their right-hand wing.

The scene just before Denmark's equaliser. Mbia is covered by Geremi just ahead of him (blue arrow), but Assou-Ekotto (pink) is isolated against Rommedahl

The quicker they got the ball there, the better – that way, Cameroon were unable to shift their side across to close down Rommedahl. And the quickest way to do it is a huge diagonal ball from defence – Simon Kjaer was the one to do that, with a superb 60-yard ball into the path of Rommedahl. He sped in behind Assou-Ekotto and centred the ball for Bendtner, who tapped into an open goal.

Everything was going through Rommedahl. He fired over from a tight angle when through on goal, and later got in behind again, and squared the ball to Jon Dahl Tomasson, whose goal-bound shot hit a defender.

The winning goal came from Denmark finding Rommedahl in space yet again. This time, Assou-Ekotto had pushed forward, trying to provide the missing left-sided width high up the pitch, and Cameroon found substitute John Makoun facing the Ajax winger. He was completely uncomfortable there, had no support from the centre-backs, and Rommedahl casually stepped inside and curled it into the far corner.

That’s not to say there were not other tactical factors at work in this game, of course. Morten Olsen replacing Martin Jorgensen with Daniel Jensen at half-time gave the midfield added solidarity, whilst Cameroon’s switch to a two-man strikeforce left them weak elsewhere on the pitch, particularly with a lack of a goalscoring threat from the flanks. Denmark seemed unable to press for the whole game and invited Cameroon pressure for the final 15 minutes as their defensive line dropped deeper and deeper. They needed a couple of saves from Sorensen to clinch the win.

But this was essentially football tactics at its most basic. One side’s shape handed the other a clear advantage in a particular part of the pitch, and they exploited that to score both their goals.

Conclusion

Cameroon are the first side eliminated from the tournament; no passion in the first game, a tactical blunder in the second. They arguably have the strongest squad of any African side, but with clear problems with morale within it, they were never going to progress far.

Denmark are a good side to watch, and showed their tactical flexibility by playing an exciting, attacking game after their opening day conservative strategy against Holland – but they won’t find any other opponents so willing to play into their hands.

Denmark 2-1 Cameroon: Cameroon’s lopsided shape plays into the hands of Rommedahl

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