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Paddy Davitt, EDP Sports Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Cameroon 2, Cape Verde 1 may just be an international result that slipped under the radar for the majority of Norwich City supporters.
But the ramifications could have an important bearing on the Canaries’ Premier League prospects. Cape Verde’s away goal in Yaounde on Sunday ensured a 3-2 aggregate play-off win that carried this tiny island situated off the west coast of Africa to their first African Cup of Nations tournament in South Africa early in the New Year.
An upset of ‘Foinaven’ proportions that denied Cameroon a chance to secure a fifth continental crown at the biennial tournament. One that should not be mourned in these parts, given it ensures City will not be deprived of the services of Sebastien Bassong for the thick end of a month at a critical time of their league season.
Bassong was born and raised in France but declared allegiance to the land of his forefathers after playing U21 football for ‘Les Bleus’. The 26-year-old centre back was not involved in the ‘Indomitable Lions’ ultimately disastrous qualifying effort – his last cap came in a goalless friendly draw against Russia more than 12 months ago - but City boss Chris Hughton did concede recently he was fully aware of the potential ramifications should Bassong’s Norwich performances thrust him back into contention.
Bassong’s relative inactivity at previous club Tottenham may have triggered a decline in his international fortunes from a peak of being a key member of Cameroon’s 2010 World Cup squad, but regular top flight football over the coming weeks for the Canaries may have carried an unwanted side effect.
Bassong’s absence for any length of time would have blown a large hole in Hughton’s defensive unit; and there have been enough of those brutally exploited already by some of the best in the business.
The centre back’s return from a hamstring problem may have had little material impact at Chelsea prior to this latest international shut down, but undeniably City’s alarmingly fragile defence has looked far more assured with his addition to the ranks following that opening day calamity at Fulham.
The 26-year-old’s arrival had a rejuvenative effect on Leon Barnett in the draws against QPR, West Ham and most impressively the return to former club Tottenham, prior to that damaging early injury exit in the Premier League defeat at Newcastle.
Norwich and Hughton need their best players on the pitch - not the treatment table, or worse, thousands of miles away on foreign fields. What Hughton did not need was an extra headache to solve with Bassong’s potential exit for four, maybe five league battles from mid-January onwards.
City are scheduled to face Newcastle, Liverpool and Tottenham again during that spell before games against QPR and Fulham that may well already have to be slotted into the ‘must-win’ category.
Bassong has the pedigree to emerge as Hughton’s best piece of business in the transfer market. Newcastle’s loss was Tottenham’s gain; albeit at a considerable cost after a stellar first season in English football earned him a move south.
That proved a fruitless union over time, yet at 26 and reunited with Hughton following their stint in the north-east, Bassong looks set to be cast in a pivotal role if Norwich are to succeed in bucking the prevailing trend again.
Few would doubt on the early season evidence it must be Bassong plus one other at the heart of Norwich’s backline in the Premier League – injury and suspension permitting – or that such a partnership stationed in front of John Ruddy will go a long way to deciding whether Hughton’s squad has the defensively solidity to give the club a fighting chance.
So if Bassong does go on to star in a successful survival mission this season, everyone with a stake in the Canary cause may want to give thanks to the footballers of the Cape Verde Islands.