After 1st-round defeats, Cameroon, Serbia need World Cup win
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — After failing to score and losing their opening games, both Cameroon and Serbia need their strikers on target when they meet Monday at the World Cup.
“We’re in a difficult situation,” Cameroon coach Rigobert Song said, referring to his team’s opening 1-0 loss to Switzerland. “It’s a decisive game and we’re ready.”
Serbia has a fine finisher in Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic, but he has only just shaken off a groin injury. If he starts, coach Dragan Stojkovic would ideally pair him with Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Mitrovic has 50 goals for Serbia and his last-minute header against Portugal in Lisbon last year sent the Serbs to Qatar and put the Portuguese into a playoff. He started the 2-0 loss to Brazil but looked jaded, as did Vlahovic when he came on.
“Whether Mitrovic or Vlahovic will start together, we’ll see,” Stojkovic said through an interpreter. “But I know who will be on the bench, which wasn’t the case against Brazil. I had no idea.”
That’s because the squad arrived in Qatar with eight players who were not yet fully fit, Stjokovic revealed.
“People asked me at the time why I wasn’t smiling. That was why, but I couldn’t say anything or everyone would have known,” he said. “The intensity of the last two days has been impressive. It’s an indicator we’re back in shape.”
Stojkovic is hopeful Juventus left winger Filip Kostic will be fit to at least play a part.
“The situation (with Kostic) is not the best, but I’m satisfied compared to what it was before,” Stojkovic said. “He’s been training well with us in the last two sessions.”
If he is, and the front three is backed up by standout Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, it could be a busy afternoon for Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana, who also plays in Italy’s Serie A for Inter Milan.
Cameroon also is likely to have a three-man attack with Bryan Mbeumo on the right of striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Karl Toko Ekambi on his left. Toko Ekambi scored five goals at last year’s African Cup of Nations as Cameroon reached the semifinals.
The 33-year-old Choupo-Moting has enjoyed a renaissance with Bayern Munich since Robert Lewandowksi left to join Barcelona, netting 11 times in 16 games. Song will hope he gets his 20th international goal at Al Janoub Stadium.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa has been a revelation in midfield for Italian league leader Napoli this season. He will be key to shutting down Milinkovic-Savic, who should drop into a deeper role if Serbia starts with two strikers.
A defeat knocks Serbia out if Brazil fails to win against Switzerland in the other Group G encounter, while a loss would eliminate Cameroon if the Swiss don’t win.
Song has top-level experience to pass on.
He is a former defender who played a record 137 times for Cameroon, including in four World Cups, and urged fans in Qatar to give his players “extra energy.”
Right back Collins Fai says the team has a point to prove.
“We didn’t give everything in the first game and left with a lot of regrets,” Fai said. “This game was an important message for us, you pay dearly for every mistake at the highest level.”
Meanwhile, the Serbian soccer federation was charged by FIFA on Saturday for hanging a political banner about neighboring independent state Kosovo in the locker room before playing Brazil at the World Cup.
Stojkovic declined to comment on the banner.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports