Four days in and this tournament’s already shaping up to be a cracker. Spain got humped. The Central/Southern American quartet of Mexico, Chile, Columbia and even Costa Rica look strong, and ITV are doing their level best to ruin another broadcast of the world’s biggest sporting event (whilst claiming the rock-throwing on Thursday night had nothing to do with them).
We’ve already seen some cracking beards of course. Pirlo was sporting his now customary facial hair last night against England, as was De Rossi; featured on these sacred pages 4 years ago whilst in South Africa. However, I kicked off this year’s efforts, somewhat esoterically, with a take on Alexi Lalas’ 20 years ago at USA 94. In it, I suggested he was emblematic of the US team’s continuing blind faith and that tournament’s abject failure. With 8 games now behind us, I look to another individual embodying his nation’s chances.
Enter Charles Itandje. Those familiar with Cameroon’s goalkeeping options over the last few years will know of Charles Kameni – a mainstay for the Indomitable Lions at the past two World Cups and three African Cup of Nations. Over these years he’s amassed 70 caps. Kameni, however, is now not their number one. German coach Volker Finke instead preferring the other Charles: Charles Itandje.
UK fans might recognize his name for perhaps the wrong reasons. During a three-year stay at Liverpool he caused a stir by allegedly behaving inappropriately during a Hillsborough memorial service. The response was swift, with Liverpool seeking a maximum punishment. In December 2010 Itandje was offloaded, ending up in Greece with lowly Atromitos.
He has, it is fair to say, found his place in Southern and Eastern Europe, playing a cumulative 113 games for Kavala, Atromitos and PAOK in the Greek leagues before moving on loan to Konyaspor for the duration of the 2013-14 season. He became their number one under manager Mesut Bakkal. It has been during this spell that Itandje has got his international break at the grand old age of 30. Kameni’s decision to move to Malaga two years ago from an Espanyol side he had played over 220 games for proved decisive. He has started only 12 in that period with Willy Caballero the number one. Finke, like many international managers, presumably prefers to pick players who are actually playing for their respective clubs, rather than wallowing in the reserves like Kameni. Thus it is Itandje who has got his chance.
But he and his team-mates face a challenge. The other night they were woeful, being categorically outplayed by a diminutive Mexico. Cameroon’s attack was limp – despite the including of Eto’o and Mainz striker Maxim Choupo-Moting – whilst their defense struggled to deal with set pieces. Benoit Assou-Ekotto – so often charged with being disinterested – looked surprisingly energetic, but their centre-backs were consistently disorientated. Itandje was found wanting on several occasions.
Issues over bonus payments that saw the team delay their flight to Brazil seem to have translated into apathy on the pitch. Itandje is not immune. Cameroon fans might be asking why Finke saw fit to drop a goalkeeper with over 70 caps from a World Cup squad altogether for an individual with first-team experience at mid-table Greek and Turkish sides.
Perhaps, then, Itandje won’t be Cameroon’s saviour as some have suggested. An ‘unlikely hero’ he won’t be. With games against Croatia and Brazil to come, beard or no beard, Itandje will have his work cut out.