A side effect of women’s soccer being so discouraged and underfunded in most every part of the world is that only rarely do we see many true upsets or surprises. The traditional powers usually have such enormous structural advantages, and have had them for so long, that they almost always win, and when they don’t win it’s almost always because they’ve lost to one of their own. When nations at an earlier stage of their women’s soccer development enter a major tournament like the World Cup, they usually do so knowing that the ceiling of their success is low and involves mostly just having fun in the group stage before heading home after three games and hopefully some good memories. All of which is what made Cameroon’s 2015 World Cup so especially endearing.
Cameroon weren’t supposed to do anything in Canada four years ago. It was their first World Cup, and only their second ever major tournament after qualifying for their first ever Olympic Games three years prior. In that Olympics, Cameroon finished last in their group with three losses and an aggregate scoreline of 11-1. We wrote ahead of the 2015 tournament that if they could just avoid getting smoked three straight times, then Cameroon would have done good.
Instead, the Indomitable Lionesses lived up to their name and roared. In the first match of the tournament, against a similarly green Ecuador team, Cameroon romped to a completely unexpected 6-0 victory that was one the most deliriously fun matches of the entire tournament:
To dispel the notion that the Ecuador was a fluke, Cameroon went on to show impressive fight against eventual finalists Japan in a 2-1 loss in the second group game, and then upset Switzerland in the final group match with a 2-1 victory that sent them into the knockout round. Once there, Cameroon fell to China by a single goal, despite firing off more than twice as many shots, and went home as the tournament’s biggest surprise and most fans’ second-favorite team. Their two wins, nine goals, and narrow round-of-16 loss were much more than anyone could’ve reasonably expected, and were more than enough to qualify as a resounding success.
Four years later, and Cameroon are right back at the World Cup in a somewhat similar position. Ranked 46th overall by FIFA, Cameroon are no one’s favorite to lift the trophy, or even to repeat their performance in Canada. They do have more name recognition this time, and no one in Group E will overlook them after what they did last go-round, but they still project as firmly the worst team in what is a pretty tough group. But if Cameroon taught us anything in 2015, it’s to expect the unexpected with them.
Goalkeepers: Annette Ngo Ndom (Amazone FAP), Isabelle Mambingo (Sunshine Queens), Marthe Ongmahan (AWA)
Defenders: Christine Manie (Nancy), Yvonne Leuko (Strasbourg), Augustine Ejangue (Arna-Bjørnar), Estelle Johnson (Sky Blue), Aurelle Awona (Dijon), Claudine Meffometou (Guingamp), Ysis Sonkeng (Amazone FAP)
Midfielders: Raissa Feudjio (Granadilla), Jeannette Yango (US Saint-Malo), Charlène Meyong (Louves Miniproff), Ninon Abena (Louves Miniproff), Marlyse Ngo Ndoumbouk (Nancy), Genevieve Ngo (Amazone FAP)
Forwards: Ajara Nchout (Vålerenga), Gabrielle Onguéné (CSKA Moscow), Madeleine Ngono Mani (Ambilly), Gaëlle Enganamouit (Unattached), Henriette Akaba (Amazone FAP), Alexandra Takounda (Éclair de Sa’a), Michaela Abam (Paris FC)
Les Lionnes Indomptables (The Indomitable Lionesses)
Cameroon are about speed and energy. They might not be the most technical team, nor the most intricate, nor the most tactically sophisticated, but their bet is that they can run faster than you for longer than you can and in doing so win. This was the strategy Cameroon used at the last World Cup, and we all know how well that turned out. We’ll see if it proves as savvy this time.
Cameroon’s pre-tournament warm-up schedule gives a hint to this tactic. From April 4 to May 31, Cameroon played an incredible 10 friendlies to prepare for the tournament. Only three of these matches came against actual national teams, with the rest being against women’s club teams of Cameroon and Spain. The only reason to compete in so many matches in such an abbreviated timespan is to try to buff up your endurance so that when the actual tournament comes around, your team will hopefully be in better shape than your competitors and thus you can run circles around them.
It’s an unorthodox strategy, but it could work. If it does, it will because Cameroon have a trio of lethal attackers capable of running circles around anyone. The star of Cameroon’s forward line is Gaëlle Enganamouit, the hat trick hero of the Ecuador game. Enganamouit is a speedster with tricky feet and a wicked shot and tons of composure in front of goal. She might have swapped her blonde look for a green dye job this time around, but none of her Group E opponents will be confused about who she is and what she can do to them.
Cameroon’s other most dangerous forwards are Gabrielle Onguéné and Ajara Nchout. Cameroon will try to get the ball to those three in space with arcing long balls over the defense for the strikers to run onto. If the forwards can supply goals like they did in Canada and make up for the opportunities their shakier defense will give up going the other way, Cameroon just might pull off another shocker.
June 10, 3 p.m.: Canada vs. Cameroon at Stade de la Mosson
June 15, 9 a.m.: Netherlands vs. Cameroon at Stade du Hainaut Valenciennes
June 20, 12 p.m.: Cameroon vs. New Zealand at Stade de la Mosson
All times Eastern