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2014 World Cup team preview: Cameroon

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Getting to know…Cameroon: Most people know the seasoned striker, but there is talent dotted across this African squad.  However, history is not on their side.  Despite an African-record six World Cup appearances, they have only made it past the group stage once – in 1990 when they reached the quarterfinals before losing to England in extra time. It’s often about beating the odds for the African countries, but in a group with no clear second-place finisher, they could make some noise.

Record in qualifying: Cameroon topped Group I of the CAF qualification group stage with 13 points, beating out Libya to reach the playoff round.  After drawing Tunisia, they put a 0-0 first-leg draw behind them to trounce Les Aigles 4-1 on the road and pull one of the five African spots in the 2014 World Cup.

What group are they in? The Indomitable Lions are members of Group A along with Brazil, Mexico, and Croatia.  It would appear on paper that they would be on the outside looking in, but with Mexico and Croatia hoping to duke it out on the last day for the second spot behind Brazil, Cameroon could catch some by surprise if they pick up a result against one or both of those countries.

Game Schedule: Group A

13 June, 12:00 ET, Natal – Mexico vs. Cameroon
18 June, 18:00 ET, Manaus – Cameroon vs. Croatia
23 June, 16:00 ET, Brasilia – Cameroon vs. Brazil

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24-year-old defender Nicolas N’Koulou (right) has attracted the attention of top clubs across Europe, but occasionally makes rash decisions.

Star Player: Samuel Eto’o

Chelsea’s veteran striker Samuel Eto’o will make his third World Cup appearance, and has seen just about everything in the European game.  As

Cameroon’s third most capped player, he will hopefully have some help from fellow seasoned striker Pierre Webo in the goal scoring department, but the buck often stops with Eto’o.

Manager: Volker Finke

The 66-year-old German is Cameroon’s fifth manager since their disappointing 2010 campaign. The 16-year boss of Bundesliga side Freiburg, Finke’s hiring a year ago was met with criticism around the country, even conspiracy theories that German kit sponsor Puma had a hand in the selection.  Despite mostly positive results since his hiring, there are still doubters of the “Finke Method”, especially after the team fell 5-1 to Portugal in a March friendly. Other than a one-year venture Japan’s J-League, Cameroon is Finke”s first foray outside of Germany.

Secret Weapon: Size

Between the 6-foot Samuel Eto’o, Alex Song’s 6-foot-1 frame, the 6-foot Nicolas N’Koulou, and 6-foot Pierre Webo, the team has not just height but plenty of bulk to go along with it. The team pairs that with impressive speed, and the skills are there.  Sometimes, however, the size advantage can betray Cameroon, and their defense is prone to giving away fouls (and penalties) in bad areas. The team has a good mix of experience (Eto’o, Webo, Jean Makoun, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Stephane Mbia) and young but proven talent (N’Koulou, Vincent Aboubakar).  Finke has the build, now he just needs to get the team to play like one.

Prediction: Of all the African nations often written off before the start of the tournament (Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana), Cameroon likely has the best chance to make the knockout round. They have to start strong, with their best chance for points in their first match, and it only gets tougher from there.  Odds are they succumb to the superior talent around them, but Cameroon could definitely contend for that second position in Group A.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

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Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

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As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Man City v Monaco; Bayer v Atletico Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his sides fourth goal during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clashes get underway on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Manchester City host AS Monaco at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola knowing his shaky defense must stay strong against the leading scorers in France’s top-flight. Monaco have already come to England and beaten Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL group stage and under talented manager Leanardo Jardim the likes of Radamel Falcao looks fired up and ready to go.

That said, City have been much better in recent weeks and have shown their best form this season in the UCL. Remember, Pep has never failed to reach the semifinals of this competition as a manager. Quite the record.

Elsewhere Bayer Leverkusen welcome Atletico Madrid to the BayArena with Mexico’s Javier Hernandez back among the goals and aiming to give the Bundesliga outfit a lead to take with them to Madrid.

The runners up late season, Atleti are currently fourth in La Liga but Diego Simeone’s side have looked stellar in Europe this season once again as they finished above Bayern Munich to win their group. Expect a tense, tough game in Germany.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Manchester City vs. AS Monaco – 2:45 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid – 2:45 p.m. ET

Bayern defends Ancelotti for middle-finger gesture to fans

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich has defended coach Carlo Ancelotti for raising his middle finger to Hertha Berlin fans after supposedly being spit at following a dramatic 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga.

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Bayern says “basically we find the human reaction of Carlo Ancelotti with the gesture to be emotionally understandable after the nasty spitting attack.”

Robert Lewandowski’s injury-time equalizer for Bayern on Saturday prompted altercations between Bayern and Hertha players in a heated atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium.

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The German soccer federation ended its investigation into the matter after Ancelotti agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,300) to its foundation for social work.

In 2014, Norbert Duewel, then-coach of second-division club Union Berlin, was fined 3,500 euros for raising his middle finger in a 4-1 loss at home against 1860 Munich.

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

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The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.