Vincent Aboubakar inspires Cameroon rally in 3-3 draw with Serbia

The roller-coaster Group G fixture leaves both sides on a single point from their two games

What happens when two sides with a propensity for meltdown clash? Something like this. A game with very little pattern, enormous amounts of drama, some exceptional goals and, in the end, a thrilling draw that doesn’t really suit either side.

These are two of the great underachievers of the past three decades – Cameroon had lost their last eight World Cup games and Serbia nine of their last 11 – and the likelihood is that, again, neither will make it through to the last 16, but they have at least had some fun along the way.

Nothing that happened at Al Janoub on Monday was without complication, not the traffic, not the security and certainly not the build-up for two teams who always embrace chaos. In an echo of the golden age of the indomitable Lions, their coach Rigobert Song had expelled the Internazionale goalkeeper André Onana from the squad on the morning of the game.

This was how it tended to be 30-35 years ago, as coaches vacillated between the proactive Joseph-Antoine Bell and the more line-based Thomas N’Kono. As punishment for an indiscreet interview in a French newspaper, Bell was dropped on the day of Cameroon’s win over Argentina at the 1990 World Cup, so late that N’Kono’s wife, who had gone shopping rather than watch her husband sit on the bench at San Siro, only found he had played that evening.


Then in 1994, at Song’s first World Cup, there were so many goalkeeping bust-ups that N’Kono, Bell and the third-choice Jacques Songo’o played a game each in the group stage. The difference is that Bell and N’Kono were both exceptional keepers, and Songo’o a pretty good one, while Song’s preference for “traditional” goalkeeping, and Onana’s robust insistence that passing the ball out from the back is essential, led to the selection of Devis Epassy of the Saudi Arabian club Abha.

A 10-year career in the French lower leagues before his big break with OFI of Crete does not scream out high-class alternative – and nor, in all honesty, did Epassy’s performance.

To begin with, this had all the hallmarks of a classic Serbian collapse. They had defended stoutly in the first half of their opener against Brazil, despite the injury to Filip Kostic and doubts over the fitness of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic, before being overrun in the second. Having begun well, Mitrovic hitting the post and flashing another shot just wide, Serbia fell behind after 29 minutes, Jean-Charles Castelletto touching in Nicolas N’Koulou’s near-post flick-on, the script felt very familiar: arrive with promise and go home in frustration.

But two goals in first-half injury-time, the first a powerful header from Strahinja Pavlovic, the second a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic shot from the edge of the box that scuttled over Epassy’s hand, turned the game Serbia’s way. And when Mitrovic got his goal, rolling in after a sick move after Cameroon had given the ball away from a throw, it seemed as though there may be some truth to the claims that, under Dragan Stojkovic, this is a new, mentally resilient Serbia.

It is not. Song had been reluctant to deploy both Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting of Bayern Munich and Vincent Aboubakar, who had been top scorer at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, but the arrival of the Al Nassr striker turned the game again. First he ran on to Castelletto’s ball over the top and beat Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, the 6ft 9in Serbia keeper, with an audacious scooped finish. Then, leading another counter down the right, he squared for Choupo-Moting to equalise.

There were still 23 minutes to go at that point and it felt like anything could happen. Both sides had chances in the final quarter. Shapes disintegrated, which probably suited Cameroon more than Serbia. Stojkovic paced his technical area, arms repeatedly stretching out, head repeatedly clutched.

Epassy made one block from Mitrovic but every time the ball came near him there was a sense of panic. Both sides have at least stopped the rot, but while Cameroon will ponder another goalkeeping furore, Serbia perhaps will, once again, rue bad luck with injuries at just the wrong time.

What any of this means beyond that, other than that Brazil and Switzerland will probably go through, is anybody’s guess. – Guardian