The World Cup means different things to different people. For some, it’s a chance to see players that don’t usually flash up on the radar, except perhaps in their own country or league. For others, it’s all about big names. Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is one of the few players who could claim to fit into both categories.
The Mainz forward, who can play on the left or more centrally, would have been hoping to make up for lost time this season, after missing large parts of 2012/13 through injury. But a combination of coach Thomas Tuchel’s system and the form of other players has seen him start most games on the bench. Nicolai Müller’s performances, which include the goals behind 05’s brilliant start to the season, have seen him play on the left recently, and he has also featured up front when Tuchel goes with a midfield diamond. Meanwhile Shinji Okazaki’s eight goals in his last 10 games mean he has the main centre forward spot nailed down.
However, JEMCM (even as an acronym his name is long) hasn’t been kicking his heels either. Restricted to just a handful of starts, the Hamburg-born Cameroonian has carved out a useful niche for himself as a super-sub. Maxim’s record when playing from the start this season is actually quite poor, with a single goal from seven games in all competitions, but as a substitute he has a much more respectable five in 13. That makes him Mainz’s third top scorer, in what has so far been a good season for the club overall.
The trick is one Maxim could do with repeating at international level. He plays more as a striker for his country, but his path to the first 11 is blocked by one of Cameroon’s greatest ever players. His chances of dislodging Samuel Eto’o, whose list of club, international and individual honours is longer than James Joyce’s Ulysses, don’t look good now that the Chelsea striker has seemingly made his peace with the national setup. He and Pierre Webo have more than 70 international goals between them, so Maxim is most likely to appear off the bench. There is no doubt that the Indomitable Lions will be pleased to have him in Brazil though. The man in charge, legendary former Freiburg coach Volker Finke, knows that with a 33 and 32-year old leading the line, fresh legs will be important.
Especially when Cameroon take to the field in the sweatbox of Arena Amazônia in Manaus. The city in north-west Brazil is hot and humid, conditions that will obviously sap the players of energy. To have a 24-year old with nine goals for his country, at a rate of better than one every three games, ready to make his mark as a substitute could prove vital.
The game in Manaus sees Cameroon take on Croatia, but there is no doubt that another team is the real draw in Group A. Hosts Brazil will be desperate to put on a show for the home crowds from the off, but that in itself could play into Cameroon’s hands. They don’t meet Brazil until the final group game, meaning the most successful team in World Cup history may already have qualified for the next stage. If that’s the case, players like Neymar and Thiago Silva will probably be rested with an eye on the next round, giving their opponents a fighting chance of getting something from the game.
Of course, for this hypothetical situation to mean anything whatsoever, Cameroon first have to take points off of Croatia and Mexico. The latter of the two will provide a particularly stern test; Mexico have come through the group stage at each of the last five World Cups (although interestingly they have been eliminated in the next round every time). How they deal with the threat of Javier Hernandez, who has an intimidating record for his country, along with new Leverkusen signing Andres Guardado may well decide whether Cameroon make it out of the group for the first time since 1990. Croatia should not be taken lightly either. With Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic pulling the strings, creating chances for Bundesliga duo Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic to finish off, this is a team that has enough quality to give more fancied sides a run for their money. Maxim’s team mates at the back, who include Schalke’s Joel Matip, will need to be at the top of their game if Cameroon are to avoid an early exit.
Assuming Brazil don’t pull off a sensational choke, there are essentially three teams fighting over one place in Group A, and Cameroon are arguably the underdogs in that battle. They had the lowest FIFA ranking of all the 32 teams at the tournament when the draw was made in October (although as they’re behind giants of the game, Cape Verde, that stat is admittedly pointless), and have only taken one win from their last four World Cup appearances.
Even so, this is likely to be a tight three-way contest. Cameroon have a good opportunity to make the Round of 16 for the first time in almost a quarter of a century, with their Bundesliga benchwarmer as the unlikely hero.
Photo courtesy of focus.de
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