The muted goal celebration is not an especially common sight sight in international football, but with an ever-more globalised world comes an ever-more globalised World Cup, and so too the conflicting emotions of Switzerland’s match-winner Breel Embolo.
Born in Yaoundé before emigrating to France when he was five-years-old, Embolo did not celebrate the crisp, guided finish that helped overcome Cameroon in this tight Group G opener, instead putting his hands up in apology. A few of his team-mates ran to celebrate the assist with Xherdan Shaqiri instead.
They understand, after all. Many of Murat Yakin’s squad are dual nationals, with the Balkan-origin contingent relishing a rematch of their fiery 2018 meeting with Serbia in the final round of group games. That could be crucial to their hopes of reaching the last-16, with Brazil now next up, but to take three points here was a promising start.
Cameroon can take positives, despite this eighth consecutive defeat equalling a World Cup record. Rigobert Song, the former Liverpool and West Ham defender, will note that the Indomitable Lions were the better side while the game was goalless, yet a repeat of 2010 and 2014’s group stage exits now looks more likely than any Italia ‘90-esque heroics.
With the spotlight on half empty stadiums and apparently inflated attendance figures, the Al Janoub Stadium was host to perhaps the most sparsely-attended game of the group stage so far. At a ground based outside central Doha, between two nations without much travelling or local support in Qatar, the number in the crowd appeared well below the 44,325 capacity.
If a scrappy first half ended goalless, Cameroon’s direct and physical style at least made for interesting viewing. The main beneficiary of this approach was Bryan Mbeumo, making his World Cup debut after switching allegiances to Cameroon after only winning caps at youth level with France.
The Brentford winger’s nimble footwork and agile movement was responsible for many of the first half’s highlights - including a neat spin out of trouble that earned the replay treatment on the Al Janoub’s jumbotrons - but his decision-making was at fault when put through by a ball over the top after 10 minutes.
Rather than squaring to an unmarked Eric Choupo-Moting, Mbeumo fired from the inside-left channel, straight at Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Karl Toko Ekambi - one of Manchester City’s tormentors in the Champions League quarter-finals two years ago - might have done better with the rebound, with most of the goal unguarded, but fired over first-time.
Choupo-Moting had not been happy with Mbeumo’s decision to shoot rather than pass but only had himself to blame when, after snatching the ball away from Manuel Akanji on half-way, he wasted the subsequent one-on-one against Sommer with a tame shot that was easily held.
Switzerland did not fashion any such clear-cut opportunities for themselves, save Akanji’s glancing header from a corner on the cusp of half time, but anyone who witnessed Cameroon’s run to the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations on home soil earlier this year should know that their defence will eventually give up chances.
Song’s side buckled under the slightest bit of pressure three minutes after the restart. Switzerland moved the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, through Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler, to release Shaqiri down the right. A low cross found Embolo who, by stepping off Nicolas Nkoulou, entirely evaded the Cameroon centre-half’s attention.
Now unmarked, Embolo applied the finish to break the deadlock, and might have had another later in the half only for Frank Zambo Anguissa to steal a Shaqiri corner off his toes as he prepared to tap in at the far post. Cameroon’s initial urgency had petered out by that point, even though they were now a goal behind.
Haris Seferovic was presented with an opportunity to double Switzerland’s lead in stoppage time, seeing a shot blocked on the line by Jean-Charles Castelletto, but the added security of a second goal was not necessary. Cameroon’s defeat had already been assured by a native Cameroonian.