WORLD CUP 2022 PREVIEW: CAMEROON: Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah isn’t heading to Qatar but his mortal enemy Vincent Aboubakar will be as Cameroon return after missing out in 2018.
There are probably hundreds of defenders who have fallen victim to Mohamed Salah’s guile, trickery and marksmanship who have dolls of the Egyptian with thousands of pins sticking out of it.
But however much they hate Salah, they do not come close to Cameroon striker Vincent Aboubakar’s outright resentment towards the Liverpool forward. There is a chance no one has loathed another footballer quite like it before – perhaps maybe El Hadji Diouf continued damnation of Steven Gerrard.
Twice this year, Aboubakar has aimed barbs laced with poison at Salah. Back in February, in the aftermath of Egypt beating Cameroon on penalties to reach the AFCON final, Aboubakar expressed quite how little he thinks of Salah’s skillset.
He doesn’t impress me much,” Aboubakar said to French outlet RFI. “I say it clearly because I’m an honest person and I have my way of seeing things.
“If he impressed me, I would say so. But he doesn’t impress me much. He’s a good player, he scores a lot but he doesn’t produce a lot of stuff in the game.
“Of course, he’s doing good stuff in the Premier League because he’s been in a team that’s been there for years. He’s a good player but not at the level of someone like (Kylian) Mbappe.”
Then in the build-up to the World Cup the bell went, round two started and he doubled down on his verbal haymakers. He told 90FootballFr. “I’m not impressed by him. I can do what he does. I just don’t have the opportunity to play in a big club.
“I understand people’s attitudes, he’s one of the best goalscorers in the Premier League. It makes sense that when you go on about a player like that, people will talk. But I did say that it was my opinion, my point of view. I don’t give a toss if people don’t like it.” Of course, only one of Salah and Aboubakar will be present in Doha and its surrounding sprawl.
So, who is the 30-year-old Aboubakar? If you are a European football connoisseur you will primarily know him for his six-year stint at Porto before scoring 35 times in 67 games across a loan and permanent spell at Besiktas, although he also spent time in France with Valenciennes and Lorient.
Fans of the likes of West Ham, Newcastle, Everton and Leicester, might have spotted his name being linked with them in various transfer windows as a player with 139 career goals tends to do. He is now plying his trade in the Saudi Pro League with Al Nassr. Perhaps gaining a good knowledge of the conditions on the Arabian Peninsula.
After netting eight goals, three more than anyone else at this year’s AFCON, he holds the keys to much of Cameroon’s hopes in Qatar.
The Indomitable Lions are managed by former defender Rigobert Song; known for his sometimes-bleached dreadlocks, spells at Liverpool and West Ham and being the uncle of ex-Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder Alex Song. He is the country’s most-capped player and played in four World Cups. Since retiring in 2010, he has only held jobs in the Cameroon set-up and suffered a stroke in 2016.
Along with Aboubakar, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa is integral to the Cameroonians and is their best player, knitting defence and attack expertly. The midfielder is now at Napoli having joined from Fulham in May.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has netted 11 times in his last nine games for Bayern Munich and arrived in red-hot form, and at the other end Inter Milan goalkeeper Andre Onana has been highly-rated since coming through at Ajax – despite missing nine months of action last year due to a positive drug test.
The ever-lively Brentford forward Bryan Mbeumo’s decision to play for the nation of his father’s birth earlier this year rather than France is a huge boost, while former Tottenham man Georges-Kevin Nkoudou’s switch from French age groups adds more quality. They are both parts of the ‘Eto’o Project’ which aims to pin down dual nationality stars.
The most notable omission is Joel Matip. Having snubbed Germany for Cameroon in 2010 and played 27 times, scoring against Brazil eight years ago in Brasilia, before things turned sour in 2017.
Rigobert Song is hoping to end Cameroon’s poor run in World Cups.
The centre-back announced his retirement from international football, citing unhappiness at “surrounding things”, but confusion and a call-up saw him blocked from playing twice for Liverpool by FIFA. Despite several attempts to coax him back, Matip hasn’t U-turned.
Cameroon, and most notably the hip-shaking Roger Milla, lit up the 1990 World Cup by reaching the quarter-finals after bloodying the noses of Argentina, Romania and Colombia before eventually bravely succumbing to England after extra time in the quarter-finals.
Since then, they have been a disappointment despite generational talents like Samuel Eto’o, the tragic Marc Vivien-Foe, Arsenal’s Lauren and solid performers like Pierre Wome, Geremi, Joseph-Desire Job and Benoit Assou Ekotto.
In fact, since victory over Colombia – thanks to flamboyant goalkeeper Rene Higuita forgetting his lack of foot skills and how far away he was from his goal – they have only managed one victory 16 matches in World Cups. They failed to qualify four years ago.
This time could be different with Eto’o – now head of their Football Federation – declaring Cameroon: “We go to Qatar to win the World Cup.”
They might struggle to chop down Brazil in Group G but Serbia and Switzerland are all of a similar level and there is no reason why Cameroon couldn’t qualify. A round-of-16 clash against the table toppers out of Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea isn’t unfavourable. If luck goes their way, then the quarter-finals are a possibility. Especially if Aboubakar backs up his words and proves he is Cameroon’s answer to Salah.