Switzerland’s Xhaka and Cameroon’s Chuopo-Moting weren’t always fan favourites. Now their teams depend on them.
Who: Switzerland vs Cameroon, Group G
Where: Al Janoub Stadium
When: Thursday, November 24, 2022, at 1pm (10:00 GMT)
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FIFA Ranking: Switzerland (15), Cameroon (43)
Redemption is the dominant theme in this opening fixture of Group G.
Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka has been one of the standout players in the Premier League this season for Arsenal. Positioned further up the pitch this season, he has already scored more goals this season (4) than he did in the previous three put together. Once a lightning rod of criticism for Arsenal fans, the midfield enforcer’s name is now routinely chanted by the fanbase.
Xhaka’s success in this advanced role shouldn’t come as a surprise, given he’s always operated there for Switzerland. In previous years, his performances for Switzerland have always been markedly better than those for his club. He was instrumental in their run to the quarterfinals of the Euro 2020 last year, where they famously defeated France in the Round of 16.
This time the Swiss fans will be hoping that Xhaka can carry his club form into the World Cup. Listen closely and you’ll hear the tables turning.
— ArsenHolic🇰🇪 (@Dancomunyao) November 19, 2022
But if there’s one player who could eclipse Xhaka’s redemption arc this season, it is possibly Cameroon’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
The 33-year-old forward has often been a figure of derision amongst fans who couldn’t understand how a player who was relegated with Stoke City in the Premier League, went on to play for European giants like Paris Saint-Germain and now Bayern Munich.
Chuopo-Moting’s role at both these clubs was often restricted to late substitute appearances. But at Bayern this season, he’s stepped out of the shadows to fill in the gap left by Robert Lewandowski’s departure over the summer.
He’s got 11 goals in all competitions, the joint second-highest with Sadio Mane for Bayern this season. In the Bundesliga this year, he currently averages more than a goal a game.
Once a punchline, Chuopo-Moting is now a protagonist in this Bayern team. He’ll be expected to reprise the same role for Cameroon in the World Cup.
“This is true that Eric is in the best shape of his career,” said Cameroon defender Jean-Charles Castelletto in an interview to SNTV. “He will be for sure an important player for Cameroon. We all need to get inspired by him to give us all the best that we can”.
Switzerland and Cameroon too, have been on similar trajectories in the past year.
For starters, they both secured qualification to the World Cup in dramatic fashion. Switzerland held European champions Italy to a 1-1 draw in Rome in the penultimate qualification game in November last year, with Italian midfielder Jorginho missing a penalty in the 90th minute. They went on to beat Bulgaria in their final group game and finished ahead of Italy to qualify for the tournament.
Cameroon, too needed a late extra-time winner in their final qualification game against Algeria, which saw the Indomitable Lions seal the fifth and last spot for African teams at the World Cup.
They are both coming off strong showings in their most recent major tournament appearance. Switzerland reached the Euro 2020 quarter-finals for the first time in their history last year and came agonisingly close to making in into the semi-finals, losing to Spain on penalties.
Cameroon reached the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations earlier this year, where they were knocked out by Egypt on penalties.
Interestingly, the two sides have never played each other before. Now they’ll met on the biggest stage of all.