Cameroon vs Serbia. FIFA World Cup Group G.
Al Janoub StadiumAttendance39,789.
Match report as Serbia surrender two-goal lead to draw 3-3 with Cameroon at the Al Janoub Stadium; result means Serbia are likely to face a straight shootout with Switzerland to join Brazil in the round of 16 from Group G
Monday 28 November 2022 15:34, UK
Cameroon kept alive their faint hopes of reaching the round of 16 after substitute Vincent Aboubakar inspired a breathless comeback in a 3-3 draw with Serbia in Al-Wakrah.
It is a result that does little to help either side, but Serbia will certainly be wondering how they allowed a two-goal lead to evaporate at the Al Janoub Stadium after Aleksandar Mitrovic had put them in a commanding position.
Cameroon took the lead against the run of play as Jean-Charles Castelletto peeled away from Andrija Zivkovic to prod home from on the goal line at the far post following a flicked on corner.
There were two minutes and 30 seconds between both Serbia goals on the stroke of half-time as Cameroon was punished for their lapse in concentration.
Strahinja Pavlovic rose unmarked to meet Dusan Tadic's set piece to find the bottom corner and the turnaround was complete when Sergej Milinkovic-Savic collected Zivkovic's pass to bury his left-foot shot beyond stand-in goalkeeper Devis Epassy.
Mitrovic extended Serbia's lead following a fabulous team move early in the second half, but after Aboubakar's outrageous dinked finish had halved the deficit, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting completed the comeback from close range shortly after.
"In these competitions you have to show desire for victory," Aboubakar said. "My teammates played a great first half despite some small mistakes. We felt they (Serbia) were shaky and a bit tired. When I came on, I tried to make the most of it.
"Most important is to give the Cameroon people joy. What matters is the mindset and the collective spirit, and in that regard we played a great game."
The result ended a run of eight straight World Cup defeats for Cameroon, picking up their first point in the competition's group stages since a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in 2002.
Cameroon: Epassy (5), Fai (6), Castelletto (6), N'Koulou (5), Tolo (5), Zambo (5), Kunde (6), Hongla (6), Mbeumo (7), Choupo-Moting (7), Toko Ekambi (5).
Subs: Aboubakar (8), Bassogog (7).
Serbia: Vanja Milinkovic-Savic (6), Milenkovic (5), Veljkovic (5), Pavlovic (7), Zivkovic (7), Lukic (6), Maksimovic (6), Kostic (7), Tadic (8), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (8), Mitrovic (7).
Subs: Stefan Mitrovic (6).
Man of the match: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
There had been just eight goals in the previous six games at this World Cup kicking off at 10am UK time, but onlookers were treated to a breakfast bonanza on Monday as 43 per cent of goals in the early offering were provided during a pulsating 90 minutes.
This was the first meeting between Cameroon and Serbia in all competitions since a 4-3 friendly win for the Serbs in June 2010 - and both sides could ill-afford another defeat after losing their opening Group G games.
Serbia, who had lost both of their World Cup games as an independent nation against African sides, ought to have opened the scoring when Mitrovic cut inside Nicolas N'Koulou but curled his effort against the post after 10 minutes.
The Fulham striker had an even better chance five minutes later when N'Koulou's poor clearance rebounded back to him but Mitrovic dragged his attempt off target - and Serbia were punished as Castelletto was left unmarked to tuck home the opener.
But Cameroon would inexplicably lose all shape and discipline in first-half stoppage time as Pavlovic and Milinkovic-Savic both scored. Milinkovic-Savic's left-footed effort came three minutes into added time, two minutes after Pavlovic's header had cancelled out Castelletto's tap-in, punishing some woeful defending by Cameroon.
There were 148 seconds between Serbia equalising and taking the lead against Cameroon, with Serbia becoming the first team to score twice in first-half added time in a World Cup match.
The third for Serbia was a beautifully worked that was started and finished by Mitrovic. He drove towards the Cameroon box and after a succession of passes inside the penalty area, the ball was squared by Andrija Zivkovic and the burly number nine had a simple tap-in.
It was Mitrovic's seventh goal in his last six games for Serbia in all competitions, becoming the first player to score more than once at the World Cup for the nation.
"At that stage we had absolute control of the match," Stojkovic said. "But we were not smart enough to see out the match. We created a lot of opportunities and scored three goals, but couldn't finish it off."
Cameroon were averaging just 0.8 goals per game at the World Cup - the lowest goals per game ratio of any nation to play at least 20 games in the competition - but the Indomitable Lions roared into life after Aboubakar's introduction.
The Al Nassr striker was a shock omission from the starting line-up once more having been overlooked against Switzerland, but Aboubakar responded in style to halve the deficit.
Karel Poborsky scored an iconic goal for the Czech Republic at Euro '96 and this was equally audacious as his scooped finish surprised Vanja Milinkovic-Savic and bounced up into the roof of the net. Less than three minutes later, Cameroon completed the comeback.
Choupo-Moting was their only player to have more than one effort in their 1-0 defeat to Switzerland, but the forward notched his first World Cup goal in his seventh game. The Bayern Munich striker held his run to sweep in Aboubakar's cross at the far post as Serbia's high line was breached for the second time in 150 seconds.
After a breathless contest, both sides had to settle for a point that keeps alive their chances of qualification - but with both managers no doubt wondering quite what they had witnessed along with the 39,789 spectators inside the ground.
Cameroon were without first-choice goalkeeper Andre Onana, who asked to leave the squad according to coach Rigobert Song, amid reports that the pair had a falling out.
"He is an important player but we are in a difficult tournament," Song said. "I know what I have to do, and that is to ensure that the team takes precedence over any individuals.
"Andre wanted to step out (of the squad) and we accepted that position. In a squad, discipline is important."
On Cameroon's recovery to snatch a point, Song added: "That is part of our DNA as Cameroon footballers and it was maybe what was missing in the first match (against Switzerland).
"What was important was to show that great fighting spirit and determination. We reacted as well as we could (at 3-1 down) to get back into the match. We are progressing and improving.
"It is possible to beat Brazil. We believe in ourselves, we did not come here to just go through the motions. Cameroon still has a contribution to make to this tournament."
Stojkovic was also confident his side can still progress.
"In the dressing room we are calm. Yes, we regret the mistakes we made, but the players should not lose their heads over it. We seem to like to take the difficult road.
"We will do the best we can to play attacking football and try to win (against Switzerland)."
Cameroon were hurtling towards a record-equalling ninth straight defeat at a World Cup finals when Aleksandar Mitrovic completed a fine team goal for Serbia just eight minutes into the second half at the Al Janoub Stadium.
Manager Rigobert Song looked out of ideas but that was the cue for Vincent Aboubakar to come off the bench. Cameroon changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Aboubakar, who top-scored at the Africa Cup of Nations finals earlier this year, partnering Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting up front.
It would prove an inspired switch to turn this roller-coaster Group G fixture on its head. Aboubakar became the first ever substitute to both score and assist a goal in a World Cup match for an African nation.
Earlier this month, the striker who plays in Saudi Arabia for Al Nassr, claimed the only difference between him and Mohamed Salah is the Liverpool star has the chance to 'play in a big club'.
Aboubakar told 90FootballFr: "I'm not impressed by him. I can do what he does. I just don't have the opportunity to play in a big club. I understand people's attitudes, he's one of the best goalscorers in the Premier League. It makes sense that when you go on about a player like that, people will talk.
"But I did say that it was my opinion, my point of view. I don't give a toss if people don't like it."
Having been left out by Song against Switzerland, Aboubakar made his point on the perfect stage. Cameroon's best chances of conquering Brazil in their final game will involve playing him from the start.
Cameroon knew they needed to win to have a realistic chance of qualification given they face Brazil in the final group game at Stadium 974 on Friday, kick-off 7pm.
Serbia are better placed to reach the round of 16 as they now face a straight shootout with Switzerland at the Lusail Iconic Stadium, also on Friday at 7pm.
Both teams know they must win their final match to stand a chance of qualifying for the next stage of the World Cup.