AL WAKRAH, Qatar — Cameroon went ahead, then managed to erase a two-goal deficit to draw 3-3 with Serbia in a thrilling Group G match at Al Janoub Stadium on Monday.
After both teams lost their opening games in a group that also features Switzerland and tournament favorites Brazil, the point might not be enough to help either team get through to the round of 16, but it will keep them alive headed into Matchday 3. And it gave watching fans around the world something to get excited about in the early kickoff.
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1. Super-sub Aboubakar leads historic comeback for Cameroon
After falling behind 3-1 in the 54th minute, Cameroon seemed all but out of the game. History said the same. Prior to Monday, only two African teams in World Cup history had ever come back from a two-goal deficit to get a result: South Africa’s 2-2 draw with Paraguay in 2002 and the Ivory Coast’s 3-2 win against Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.
The rest of the world hadn’t fared any better. Teams that have fallen behind by two were just 9-428-13 (W-L-D) in the World Cup, meaning less than 5% of those teams have been able to rescue at least a point.
Everything changed when Vincent Aboubakar replaced Martin Hongla in the 55th minute. His perfectly timed run put him in one-versus-one to score the team’s second goal with an incredible chip, then he assisted Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s equaliser minutes later.
Had it not been for arguably the team’s best player, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Cameroon might not have needed a comeback. First, the Napoli midfielder let Strahinja Pavlovic run unimpeded through the box and go unchallenged to head in Serbia’s first goal. Then, just two minutes later, he cheaply gave the ball away at the top of the box and didn’t work to win it back, which gave Sergej Milinkovic-Savic the chance that put Serbia in front.
2. Serbia controls game for long stretches
Despite falling behind in the 31st minute on a corner kick that was tapped home by Jean-Charles Castelletto, Serbia dictated the play for most of the game’s first two thirds.
Outside of that goal, Cameroon rarely threatened and Serbia were consistently able to play their way through to the final third. Pavlovic (one minute into first-half stoppage time) and Milinkovic-Savic (three minutes) gave them a deserved lead just before the half, and it looked so easy when Aleksandar Mitrovic scored in the 53rd minute that the three points seemed like a forgone conclusion.
But Serbia crumbled and It was a massive missed opportunity to give themselves a chance of reaching the knockouts heading into the match against Switzerland on Friday, where Serbia will now likely need a win to advance, depending on what happens between Brazil and Switzerland. Had they beaten Cameroon, it opened up the possibility that a draw would have been enough.
3. The case of the missing goalkeeper
A prematch shock came when Cameroon’s starting goalkeeper, Andre Onana, was not on the team sheet. His absence came in the wake of a disagreement with coach Rigobert Song, who Onana felt set up the team to play too defensively, sources told ESPN, and Onana left the team (and possibly the World Cup) as a result. Samuel Eto’o, the Cameroon Federation president, attempted to persuade Onana to remain with the team but was unsuccessful.
With the Inter Milan goalkeeper unavailable, Song turned to French-born Devis Epassy, who debuted for Cameroon in 2021 and plays for Abha in Saudi Arabia. There was nothing Epassy could have done on Serbia’s first goal, but he could have done better on the second.
It’s impossible to say how Onana’s presence would have impacted the game, but with one point through two matches, Cameroon’s hopes of qualifying will be tough as they face Brazil next.
Serbia: Milinkovic-Savic 6, Pavlovic 8, Veljkovic 6, Milenkovic 6, Kostic 7, Lukic 6, Maksimonvic 7, Zivkovic 8, Milinkovic-Savic 8, Tadic 7, Mitrovic 8.
Subs: Mitrovic 6, Babic 6, Radonjic 6, Grujic 6.
Cameroon: Epassy 6, Fai 6, Castelletto 8, N.Koulou 6, Tolo 7, Kunde 7, Hongla 6, Anguissa 5, Mbeumo 6, Choupo-Moting 8, Ekambi 6.
Subs: Aboubakar 8, Ondoua 6, Bassogog 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Vincent Aboubakar
Aboubakar’s goal and assist after coming on in the second made all the difference for Cameroon.
WORST: André-Frank Zambo Anguissa
His pair of mental lapses near the end of the first half cost the Indomitable Lions the lead and, possibly, the game.
Highlights and notable moments
Serbia went behind but scored twice in first-half stoppage time, before making it 3-1 early in the second, and it looked like they were cruising.
How have Serbia gone from looking ready to board the next flight home to playing some of the nicest football of the tournament. Ridiculous
— David Cartlidge (@davidjaca) November 28, 2022
But then this stunning scooped effort from Vincent Aboubakar was followed up by a goal from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to tie it at 3.
WHAT A CHIP 🔥
After a VAR check, the goal stands and Cameroon takes one back! 🇨🇲 pic.twitter.com/2zwCtckDjW
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 28, 2022
THIS GAME IS TIED 😱
Cameroon scores a third! pic.twitter.com/pXvPbKC8I6
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 28, 2022
And the game was even praised by the official FIFA World Cup Twitter account afterward.
What a game 👏
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) November 28, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Cameroon coach Rigobert Song: “We were leading and then after those two (stoppage-time) goals we thought it was over, but we saw that the players rallied back and I can only be happy about that. The most important is to give the Cameroon people emotions. What matters is the mindset and the collective spirit and in that regard we played a great game. We showed fighting spirit.”
Song on Onana: “He is a very important player but we are in a competition and my role is to put the team first ahead of an individual. He is one of the best keepers in Europe. This is not about his performances but you have to preserve the squad. Maybe we needed a strong signal. It’s a big risk that I took. But I’m the dad of these kids so when I have to take risks and make decisions, I do that and I stand by what I do.”
Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic: “Of course, players should not lose their heads. We are frustrated as we wanted the win and had the match in our hands but our silly mistakes allowed Cameroon to avoid defeat. We made two huge mistakes in the defence. At this level it is very dangerous to go high up when your opponent has the ball — these two mistakes cost us victory. It is difficult to understand and completely unnecessary.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Cameroon scored their first goal at a World Cup since Joel Matip vs. Brazil in 2014.
– Serbia are the first team to score two stoppage-time goals in the first half of a World Cup game.
– Vincent Aboubakar was the first substitute to score for Cameroon since Roger Milla in 1994.
– This was Cameroon’s first time scoring three goals in a World Cup match.
– This was the fifth comeback win at the 2022 World Cup, passing the total from the 2018 Group Stage (4).
– This was the sixth 3-3 draw in World Cup history and the first time there’s been a 3-3 draw in consecutive World Cups (Portugal and Spain drew in 2018.)
Serbia: They face Switzerland on Friday at Stadium 974, 10 p.m. local time/2 p.m. ET. A lot will depend on the Swiss’ result against Brazil later.
Cameroon: A tough final game against Brazil on Friday at Lusail Stadium, 10 p.m. local time/2 p.m. ET. Brazil may be through by then, which could ease the pressure.