THE TV pundits expressed their bemusement in different ways after Cameroon’s baffling performance against Japan last Monday. Alan Shearer came up with several variations on the phrase: “I just don’t understand it.” Gareth Southgate, on the other hand, decided to quote Einstein.
“Einstein’s definition of insanity was to do the same thing repeatedly and expect different results,” said Southgate during ITV’s build-up to Cameroon v Denmark, before moving on to discuss how quantum mechanics might allow coach Paul Le Guen to travel back through time and alter the result of the Japan match.
OK, I made up that last bit. But Southgate’s waspish manner is making him a pundit to keep an eye on during this World Cup.
For one thing, he seems to relish a bit of conflict with his fellow pundits, even if he’s got no chance of winning – he had a right old ding-dong on Tuesday night as he tried unsuccessfully to convince Andy Townsend that Maicon’s goal against North Korea was a fluke. I’ll be disappointed if Southgate is not turning up in a smoking jacket and quoting Oscar Wilde by the end of the tournament.
Einstein’s definition of insanity was a pretty good way for Southgate to sum up Le Guen’s baffling team selections over the last six months. His reluctance to play Alex Song and his insistence on fielding Samuel Eto’o on the right flank confused many.
His decision to play 18-year-old Joel Matip against Japan (he looked utterly terrified) led experienced midfielder Achille Emana to slate Le Guen publicly.
Their lack of attacking threat against Japan suggested something had to change. Finally, Le Guen heeded Einstein’s advice and made those changes, restoring Song and moving Eto’o into a more central role. Emana was also brought back in at the expense of Matip.
It might have worked if their defending had been better. Eto’o’s opener after 10 minutes was not the last clear-cut chance Cameroon would create. But they were ripped to shreds by a terrific move which led to an equaliser for Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner to equalise.
Then former Charlton striker Dennis Rommedahl took advantage of some slack defending to score in the second half, and Cameroon could not respond.
This game could easily have finished 4-4. Had it done so, Cameroon would still have a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages. As it is, they are the first team to be eliminated. And given the talent in their squad, that really is insane.