Cameroon captain Vincent Aboubakar starred as the Indomitable Lions claimed a 2-1 win over brave Comoros in the knockout phase of the Africa Cup of Nations played at Paul Biya Stadium in Yaounde on Monday night.
The skipper teed-up Karl Toko Ekambi for the first goal before getting on the scoresheet himself later on. Youssouf M'Changama's goal-of-the-tournament contender set up a nervous finale but the hosts held on to advance.
The Islanders had to start with left-back Chaker Alhadhur in goal owing to the unavailability of their three recognised custodians. Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseni were unavailable due to Covid-19 rules.
It was bad news for The Coelacanths who had also lost Salim Ben Boina to a shoulder injury.
Despite playing the hosts who were enjoying the support of thousands of fans who had flocked the stadium, it was Comoros who started quite well, with Benjaloud Youssouf testing Andre Onana in the Indomitable Lions goal after a foul committed by Nicolas Ngamaleu in a promising position.
The Comoros faithful's hopes of seeing their team defy the odds and eliminate the tournament favourites were thwarted in the sixth minute when their team were reduced to 10 men.
A reckless challenge by Nadjim Abdou on Ngamaleu was spotted by referee Tessema Bamlak who, upon consultation with VAR, had no option but to give him his marching orders.
Having a numerical advantage and with the support of the home fans, Cameroon were oozing with confidence and came close twice in the early exchanges, but current top scorer Aboubakar and forward Toko Ekambi - who had arguably a better chance after racing clear, failed to trouble the make-shift keeper.
However, the duo combined for an opening goal for the hosts in the 30th minute. Ngamaleu, who was playing in an advanced role, managed to pick Aboubakar in the danger zone. The striker squared the ball to Toko Ekambi who kept his cool to bend the ball into the left corner.
Two minutes later, Onana had to be alert to make a double save and deny the Coelacanths. First, it was Ahmed Mogni who unleashed a fierce low shot, targeting the bottom right, but the custodian punched the ball.
The rebound kindly fell to M'Changama whose rocket was stopped by the feet of the shot-stopper. Chances went begging in the remaining minutes of the first half, as Cameroon lacked finesse in the final third against their cautious opponents.
Alhadhur made his first save of the game in the 48th minute when he reacted fast to deny the unmarked Aboubakar who headed in a cross from the right.
The custodian, once again, had to bail out his team in the 54th minute. The defenders were caught napping and the dangerous Aboubakar slipped in the area unmarked. He forced the keeper to make a good save, and the rebound fell to Ngamaleu, but Alhadhur was there to ensure the ball did not hit the back of the net.
Comoros continued displaying beautiful football despite their numerical disadvantage, with Cameroon striving to get more goals.
The latter thought they had scored their second with 25 minutes to go, but the assistant referee's offside flag cut short Aboubakar's celebrations.
Five minutes later, the Cameroon captain was not to be denied. This time around, he was picked by Martin Hongla, beat his marker before wrong-footing the goalkeeper and scoring his sixth goal of the tournament. The 29-year-old became the first player to score more than five goals in a single edition of Afcon since Egypt’s Hossam Hassan and South Africa’s Benni McCarthy (both seven) in 1998.
Onana was forced into a fine save by El Fardou Ben who pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the 18-yard area with 10 minutes to go.
In the 81st minute, the islanders were rewarded for their resilience; Hongla made a challenge about 35-yards out from goal. M'Changama stepped up and curled the ball past Onana to give his team a lifeline and set up a tense finale. But the equaliser did not come forth.
The Indomitable Lions will next play the Gambia in the quarter-finals.