Can Benjamin Moukandjo sustain his Lorient heroics?
Benjamin Moukandjo has already achieved the greatest success of his career so far this season when he guided Cameroon to the Nations Cup title, but he's well on his way to an even sweeter accomplishment with FC Lorient.
Les Merlus have been struggling at the wrong end of the Ligue 1 table all season, having lost their first four matches and sacked manager Sylvain Ripoll in October.
By the middle of March, they were in bottom spot in the standings, and a run of five consecutive defeats from mid-February left them with little hope of preserving their top flight status and staring down the barrel of relegation.
However, while they were defeated 2-1 at home by reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain on Feb. 3, Michael Ciani's second-half goal fuelled optimism that the Breton side could still trouble sides, and the last half an hour of this contest may have been the turning point of their testing campaign.
Having never won back-to-back matches all season, Lorient have since won their last three, with Moukandjo influential as Bernard Casoni's side have taken nine points since the middle of March.
Heading into Saturday's showdown with Montpellier, the Indomitable Lion has scored five in his last five Ligue 1 games, having previously scored just one in his last seven.
His efforts included the first when Lorient came from two goals down to win 3-2 at Nancy and the only goal of the game as Caen were downed at the Stade du Moustoir.
Last weekend, they appeared destined to end their winning run when Corentin Tolisso fired European hopefuls Olympique Lyonnais into the lead, but Lorient staged a remarkable comeback, equalising through Ghana's Majeed Waris before Sylvain Marveaux netted after the break.
Moukandjo added two in the last 20 minutes to complete an eye-catching victory and prompt belief that Lorient could yet beat the dreaded drop, while taking them out of the automatic relegation places and into the relegation playoff spot.
Victory at Montpellier on Saturday would sustain a remarkable purple patch for the club, and could take them as high as 16th. With momentum on their side, and with five games to play, Lorient could feasibly target a mid-table finish.
During the Afcon in Gabon, the underrated Moukandjo rose to the fore and demonstrated his maturity to lead an inexperienced side -- in the face of adversity -- to an unexpected triumph. His opener against Burkina Faso in Cameroon's first match settled a few nerves, while he also stepped up to convert the first penalty in the quarterfinal shootout against fancied Senegal.
However, his influential performances in Lorient's recent successes have rivalled anything he achieved in Gabon, and if he can help Les Merlus complete this unexpected survival act, it would arguably be a success to equal Cameroon's triumph earlier this year.