Breel Embolo grew up in Basel but he was born in Cameroon’s capital Yaound? and did not receive Swiss citizenship until eight years ago. It explains why Switzerland’s forward refrained from celebrating one of the simplest, yet potentially most significant, goals he has scored.
In a group also featuring Brazil and Serbia, this was a game Switzerland needed to win and, in the 48th minute, Embolo ensured it would prove mission accomplished.
It was not his fault that his six-yard finish drove a stake through Cameroonian hearts as the chances of their team progressing beyond the group stage for the first time since Italia 90 receded appreciably.
The opening week of Qatar 2022 has showcased plenty of intricate passing, intelligent movement and sometimes kaleidoscopic positional interchanging but Cameroon introduced a retro theme, reminding everyone that crashing balls into the corners has not necessarily had its day. Rigobert Song’s gameplan seemed heavily centred on getting the ball long, early, and, often high, to the Bayern Munich striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Xherdan Shaqiri, now with Chicago Fire, was clearly meant to serve as Switzerland’s creative catalyst but his every manoeuvre was heavily shadowed by Cameroon’s left-back Nouhou Tolo. When Shaqiri switched wings he experienced similar treatment from Collins Fai.
The growing realisation that it really wasn’t not Shaqiri’s sort of game dictated that although the Indomitable Lions most definitely did not always get their own way in a central midfield staffed for Switzerland by Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka and Nottingham Forest’s Remo Freuler, Cameroon were frequently free to concentrate on feeding Choupo-Moting.
Murat Yakin had opted to leave Newcastle’s in-form centre-half Fabian Sch?r on the bench and instead pair Manchester City’s Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi at the heart of his back four. Choupo-Moting revelled in subjecting them to a thorough work out, on one occasion flicking the ball beyond Akanji only to end up shooting tepidly at Yann Sommer.
An even better chance arrived when Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumo – whose right-sided advances troubled Switzerland – unleashed a shot that Sommer parried into the path of the well-placed Karl Toko Ekambi only for his effort to veer wildly off target.
Cameroon’s tactics may have been straight out of the Sam Allardyce playbook but he enjoyed quite a lot of success as a manager and as Sommer was forced to save again, this time from Martin Hongla, Switzerland looked distinctly unnerved.
By half-time they had barely threatened, failing to record a single effort on target. Yakin would surely have been alarmed to note that Cameroon’s key midfielder, Andr?-Frank Zambo Anguissa, had finished the first 45 minute strongly and increasingly looked capable of disrupting the Freuler-Xhaka axis.
For all Cameroon’s direct, pace-suffused, high-pressing full-back-propelled counterattacking, their defence looked a bundle of nerves on those, admittedly strictly rationed, occasions Switzerland delivered the ball into their area.
From one such incursion, in the 45th minute, they should really have scored but Akanji made a mess of an inviting header after connecting with Freuler’s corner.
Maybe that miss served to galvanise Switzerland as they emerged for the second half showing off an altogether slicker, sharper passing game and were swiftly reward as Embolo opened the scoring.
With the defence apparently having lost concentration Shaqiri was finally permitted to capitalise on smart approach work from Xhaka and Freuler and send a low cross curving towards the similarly unattended Monaco forward. All that remained was for Embolo to stroke the ball home from six yards before that impassive reaction.
It was Switzerland’s first shot on target and, admittedly only for a short while, the African drums and vuvuzelas – which had been making quite a noise on the Doha metro from as early as 9am – fell silent.
The soundtrack had resumed by the time Anguissa’s superb interception prevented Embolo from scoring again and then Andr? Onana kept Cameron in the contest courtesy of a fabulous diving save from Ruben Vargas.
Generally though Switzerland were defending deep and, with Choupo-Moting a shadow of his first half self, Cameroon could find no way through their barricades.