AFCON 2021: Round of 16 – Tactical Match-ups (Monday)
As the Round of 16 kicks off, a look at the key areas of tactical advantage in each tie, and the likeliest path to victory.
Gambia are one of the feel-good stories of the ongoing AFCON. Despite being mostly defensive in their stance, they have not only scored in every match so far, but nn team in the competition has hit the woodwork more often so far.
They are reminiscent, in many ways, of how Senegal attacked at the 2002 World Cup: they defend deep (-er than any other team in the competition), seek to prevent progression through the middle of the pitch with numbers, and attack quickly with balls over the top or into the channels to quick, skillful forwards.
That is not to say their distribution when they win the back in the midfield is hurried though. In order for the pass forward to be as precise as possible and give the centre-forward a chance, they will establish possession with two or three short passes, allowing the striker to find an open lane, before playing forward.
Guinea will provide challenging, but nevertheless beatable opposition.
The Syli Nationale have been an inconsistent watch so far. They were deserved winners against Malawi, but were far from sparkling; they dominated against Senegal, especially in the first half, but failed to take advantage, and against Zimbabwe they were handed a surprising defeat.
It makes appraising their true level difficult, although it must be said that here they will have a significant qualitative advantage over Gambia.
Against their back three, there is a good chance we see Tom Saintfiet opt for a front two (Gambia’s shape has alternated between 4-4-2 and 4-5-1/ 5-4-1), as a lone striker would likely get crowded out. With two upfront, attacking on the outside of the centre-backs should prove profitable.
Guinea’s main avenue of attack will be getting Issiaga Sylla forward from left-back. Space between the lines will be at a premium, so their advanced midfielders are unlikely to find the space on the edge of the box that he enjoys so much. Expect to see Saidy Janko reprise his dual winger/wing-back role from the win over Tunisia, tracking Sylla all the way to prevent the backline being exposed.
Gambia have made a habit of stunning teams that lack cutting edge upfront, and do not need a lot to cause damage of their own. This tie should make for fascinating viewing.
Cameroon v Comoros
That Comoros are even here is a miracle. However, I am sure they would rather it did not end with an outfielder in goal for a meeting with the hosts.
Needs must, however. The Coelacanths have suffered an outbreak of COVID, and that makes their already slim chances even slimmer.
However, Amir Abdou has shown himself an astute tactician: where Comoros have lost, they have not been overawed from a structural perspective. The onus is on the minnow to nullify the giant, and that is largely what Comoros have done well.
Cameroon’s system could cause them problems, however, for a number of reasons.
First is the ability to shift between a back three and a back four, and the roving role that Moumi Ngamaleu plays. Toni Conceicao is happy to play out a chess match, shifting the emphasis of the team’s play by moving the Young Boys’ forward around.
There is also the fact that, even within that back four system, his use of Andre Zambo Anguissa allows for a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1. Matching up without losing their own attacking framework will be difficult for Comoros.
The Indomitable Lions have issues too, of course. Their preferred routes of attack are the flanks and half spaces, but without Eric Choupo-Moting acting as a number 10, they struggle to access those zones. However, with the Bayern Munich man, they are less secure through the middle.
It is a catch 22, and if Conceicao errs on the side of caution (as seems to be his wont), the host nation will once again lean heavily on the ability of leading scorer Vincent Aboubakar to generate shots on his own.
Really though, that should be enough either way. Unless Cameroon get caught up the pitch though, it is difficult to see how Comoros can hurt them here.