Fate played a tricky one on Yaounde-born Breel Embolo, as the lot fell on him to strike the dagger that condemned the land of his parents, Cameroon, to defeat at the ongoing Qatar 2022 World Cup.
The 1-0 win at the Al Janoub Stadium gave Switzerland a good platform to plan their move up the ladder in the World Cup, but the goal, sweet as it was for the Swiss, brought sadness to both the scorer and fans of the Indomitable Lions. But it is what it is. To advance in this game, a team must outscore the opponent and that was simply what Embolo helped Switzerland do.
It condemned Africa to a longer wait for victory in this competition, which has already seen a loss for Senegal and draws for Morocco and Tunisia.
Cameroon were looking for their first win in a World Cup since 2002 and after a first half of limited chances, the Africans grew into the game and imposed themselves in the second half.
They should have been 1-0 up as early as the ninth minute when Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumo right-hand side shot from a tight angle was pushed out by Yann Sommer, but Karl Toko Ekambi failed to convert on the rebound with his effort sailing over the bar.
Four minutes later, Cameroon fans were ready to celebrate as Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting snatched the ball off Manuel Akanji and ran through on goal, one-on-one but his shot was tame and comfortably saved.
Choupo-Moting linked up nicely with Mbeumo, which saw Martin Hongla in a dangerous position, however, his effort was saved once again by Sommer.
Even though Cameroon had looked good in the first half, they were always reminded of Switzerland’s danger when they had two chances from corners missed by Nico Elvedi and Akanji.
The latter should have scored as it was a free header, yet he didn’t manage to direct the ball on target.
Swiss head coach, Murat Yakin’s words at half time certainly worked. Two minutes after the restart Xherdan Shaqiri’s low cross into the middle of the box was dispatched by Embolo, who, understandably, kept his celebrations muted.
Cameroon seemed to lose steam after the goal, with the now emboldened Switzerland almost scoring an identical goal to the first.
Shaqiri once again put the ball into the same area, however, Ruben Vargas’s effort was expertly saved by Andre Onana.
The resulting corner almost presented Switzerland with another goal as the ball looked destined to reach Embolo who would have had a tap in if it wasn’t for Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s vital deflection.
Switzerland set up defensively for the remainder of the second half as Cameroon struggled to show any attacking threat.
A brilliant last-ditch block from Jean-Charles Castelleto kept the score line at 1-0 just before the referee blew the full-time whistle.
Yesterday’s defeat was Cameroon’s eight straight loss dating back to 2002, but the Lions’ boss, Rigobert Song, is more concerned now with winning the next games to take the Lions through to the second round.
“It’s a feeling of disappointment. We wanted more, but football at this level is decided by small details. There was a brief let-up and we conceded a goal,” said Song.
“But we know everything is still possible. We still have two games to play and we know we have no more room for error.”
Before kickoff, Cameroon’s legend, Roger Milla, was presented with an award as the oldest goal scorer in World Cup history, a reminder of past glories for the Indomitable Lions, who have won just one game since reaching the quarter-finals 32 years ago.
Song, who played at four World Cups, including with a 42-year-old Milla in 1994, opted for the in-form Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to lead the attack in place of usual captain Vincent Aboubakar.
African teams had made an encouraging start in Qatar after all five failed to get past the group stage in 2018, but Cameroon will regret not making more of a first half they controlled.
Song said the rankings meant nothing coming into the tournament, but Cameroon’s eighth World Cup appearance risks being brief with games to come against Serbia and Brazil.
“Generally in football, when you are dominating, you need to hit the back of the net, it is not enough to have ball possession. We missed that final touch (to score), we were hungry for the win, but the goal did not come.
“If you look at our team, only three players of the 26 have played at a World Cup before. This is a new generation of players. There is everything still left to play for. We have not lost hope.
“The mistakes that were made today will not be made again in the next game (against Serbia on Monday). In football, anything is possible.
“We believe in this dream. We have come here with a mission to accomplish. I am a competitor,” Song said.