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Afcon: Will Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui help Cameroon forget Joel Matip?

1:47 PM GMT 05/06/2019
Joel Matip Liverpool 2018-19
Liverpool’s Champions League winner has stayed away from the Indomitable Lions camp, but will he be missed?

With Joel Matip absent from Cameroon’s provisional squad for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui will be expected to be the Indomitable Lions’ key man in defence.

The Slavia Prague defender has enjoyed a fantastic season with the Czech giants, winning the domestic league, reaching the last eight of the Europa League, and earning recognition as the best centre-back in the top flight this term.

Ngadeu-Ngadjui is not a superior player to Matip, who won the Champions League final as Liverpool defeated Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in Madrid on Saturday, but he can ensure that the Reds stopper isn’t missed in Egypt.

The duo’s fortunes have dovetailed before.

Ngadeu-Ngadjui has been one of the beneficiaries of Matip’s decision to retire from international football, with the centre-back not having featured for the Indomitable Lions since an Afcon qualifier against The Gambia in September 2015.

The Czech-based stopper made his debut for Cameroon, against the same opponents, almost exactly a year later, and went unbeaten with the national side in his first 13 appearances.

He can’t match the quality of Matip, and indeed, Cameroon coach Clarence Seedorf has made little secret of his desire to call up both the Liverpool man and another central defender, Torino’s Nicolas Nkoulou.

“For the first three months after [assistant coach] Patrick [Kluivert] and I signed, we have dedicated a lot of time to meeting and speaking with [Matip and Nkoulou],” Seedorf told Goal in March.

“There’s been no response, but we have to have a deadline because we need to build a team, we cannot chase players.”

While the door had clearly been left open, neither man honoured the call, and Seedorf has been left with four clear central defensive options in his 37-man provisional Afcon squad.

Experienced Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik and the speedy Joyskim Aurelien Dawa appear to be back-up options, with Yaya Banana appearing to have won Seedorf’s faith as a starter.

Afcon 2017 winner Adolphe Teikeu, who partnered Ngadeu-Ngadjui in Gabon, appears to have lost his place in the setup after moving to Saudi Arabia.

Ngadeu-Ngadjui looks likely to start, and even though the manager appeared keen to recruit upgrades, he’s already demonstrated—at the last Nations Cup—that he can hold his own against the continent’s best attackers.

The 28-year-old was one of Cameroon’s star men in Gabon.

He notably forged a fine partnership with Teikeu, with the duo using their physical attributes to form an athletic and powerful screen in front of Fabrice Ondoa’s goal.

He also scored twice in six games, and ended the tournament as Cameroon’s top scorer.

Ngadeu-Ngadjui opened scoring in their 2-0 semi-final victory over Ghana, having previously scored the winner against Guinea-Bissau in the group stages.

“2017 was a year that gave me everything in my professional life,” he told local sources ahead of the Nations Cup. “[I became] champion of Africa, champion of the Czech championship – what happiness.”

The defender could also be an even stronger presence for Cameroon than he was last term, and not just because he has a point to prove.

In recent years, he’s been employed as a central defender, a sweeper and in defensive midfield for Slavia, and this versatility could be an asset in a tournament environment.

He may not have a Champions League winner’s medal, but with the wealth of experience gathered at Slavia Prague since that emphatic 2017 success, the 28-year-old has the quality to ensure that Matip isn’t missed by Cameroon as they look to defend their title this summer.