Cameroon out of World Cup despite stunning Brazil
The Indomitable Lions needed to win, but Switzerland’s victory over Serbia meant they were eliminated.
Vincent Aboubakar scored late to give Cameroon a historic win over Brazil but it was not enough to secure their advance to the next stage of the World Cup in Qatar, after Switzerland defeated Serbia in the group’s other game.
The 1-0 victory in the final Group G game on Friday left Cameroon packing their bags for the flight home, while already-qualified Brazil headed to the Round of 16 at the top of their group.
Brazil had won all seven previous meetings with African opponents at the World Cup, including beating Cameroon in 1994 and again in 2014.
Aboubakar, the captain of Rigobert Song’s team, connected with a cross from substitute Jerome Ngom Mbekeli to break the deadlock in the 92nd minute at Lusail Stadium.
He was booked for removing his shirt in the wild celebrations that followed and, having already been cautioned, had to leave his teammates to see out the remainder of the game. Referee Ismail Elfath smiled, shook Aboubakar’s hand, then showed him a yellow and a red card in quick succession.
Brazil had been far from their exuberant best throughout, seemingly happy to cruise through the game with a draw.
Having won their first two matches in Qatar, Brazil topped the group and advance to a last-16 tie against South Korea, when their many key players who were rested for this game will return.
Coach Tite sent out a second-string side and the result was Brazil’s first defeat in the group stage of a World Cup since 1998 when they were beaten by Norway.
Tite’s mind was on the knockout stage here as he made nine changes to the starting lineup, including handing a start to 39-year-old Dani Alves, making him Brazil’s oldest-ever men’s international player.
The spine of Brazil’s second-string side still featured Manchester City’s Ederson in goal, Real Madrid’s Eder Militao in central defence, Liverpool’s Fabinho in midfield and Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus, supported by Rodrygo up front.
They also had the 21-year-old Gabriel Martinelli on the left and the Arsenal prospect was their standout performer.
He almost scored the opening goal in the 14th minute when he leapt unmarked but saw his header tipped over by Cameroon goalkeeper Devis Epassy. Martinelli also threatened in first-half stoppage time with a dribble across the edge of the area and a shot Epassy turned behind.
It was a piece of play reminiscent of Neymar, who is still recovering from the sprained ankle that forced him off in the opening 2-0 win over Serbia but watched the action from just behind the Brazilian bench.
The Brazil fans – who unfurled a banner with a “Get Well Soon” message for legendary player Pele who is in hospital with a respiratory infection – cheered loudly when Neymar appeared on screens inside the enormous stadium.
Needing a win, Cameroon almost went in front in first-half stoppage time when a Bryan Mbeumo header faced a flying save from Ederson.
Martinelli was their most likely source of a goal, forcing Epassy to tip over another strike that was arcing towards the top corner early in the second half and the Cameroon shot-stopper – continuing in place of Andre Onana who was dropped for unspecified disciplinary reasons – turned a Militao shot around the post moments later.
Eager to study all his attacking options, Tite sent on the Flamengo duo of Everton Ribeiro and Pedro, but he also saw Alex Telles come off hurt in the second half.
Telles is the third Brazil full-back to succumb to injury at the tournament after Danilo and Alex Sandro.
At this rate, the veteran Alves will have a further role to play in Qatar.
Most importantly, Brazil will hope to have Neymar back soon but it remains to be seen if he will feature against South Korea on Monday.
Aboubakar grabbed the late winner just when a goalless draw looked the most likely outcome and Cameroon deserve huge credit for taking four points from such a difficult group even if they now go home.
In the other Group G match, Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to get second place and set up a clash against Portugal in the Round of 16.