Host Cameroon set up an Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final against The Gambia, but only after he toiled to a 2-1 victory over a Comoros side who were forced to put an outfield player in goal and spend most of the game played with 10 men on Monday.
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Left-back Chaker Alhadhur started between the posts for the Comoros in Yaounde after two of their three goalkeepers were eliminated due to Covid-19, while the other was missing due to injury.
They then had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes and Karl Toko-Ekambi put Cameroon ahead before skipper Vincent Aboubakar scored his sixth goal of the tournament.
Despite that, it was a heroic performance by the Comoros, who held their position from the last sixteen to the end thanks to the stunning late free kick by Youssouf M’Changama.
“I don’t think I’m the only hero. I did what I could. I think I gave hope to the team and they all tried to help me,” Alhadhur, usually a backup left-back for French Ligue 2 side Ajaccio, told Canal Plus.
He had to use tape to mark his number three on the back of his goalkeeper shirt.
Whether he was chosen to go in goal, he added: “It was something we talked about and laughed about a bit at first, but then it got serious.
“I was chosen, but I didn’t believe it until I put on the gloves and top. Then I realized it was serious. A lot of emotions went through my head, but then I just kept going.”
The small Indian Ocean island nation qualified for the last 16 in their first-ever appearance at the Cup of Nations after finishing as one of the top third-placed teams in the group stage.
However, their dream turned into a nightmare as a total of 12 players and staff tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the draw, including goalkeepers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini.
Their other goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina, was injured but they had hoped Ahamada could start after testing negative on match day.
Ahamada, 30, flew from Garoua, where he had been isolated, to Yaounde on Monday afternoon in hopes of playing, but the Confederation of African Football (CAF) ruled otherwise as his positive result had come just two days earlier.
The islanders, whose coach Amir Abdou was one of the missing after a positive test, were sent off hard after a VAR assessment for a foul on Moumi Ngamaleu, but they never gave up.
– Disease bug won’t stop Gambians –
Nevertheless, it is the Indomitable Lions who keep their dream of winning the Cup of Nations on home soil alive as they reach a last-eight draw against the Gambia on Saturday in Douala.
Like the Comoros, a Gambia team ranked 150th in the world appearing at their first-ever AFCON, but they disrupted the odds of beating Guinea 1-0 in the western city of Bafoussam earlier on Monday thanks to a stellar second half of Musa from Bologna. wheelbarrow.
The Gambia then held out with 10 men at the end after Yusupha Njie was sent off as Guinea hit the woodwork twice in quick succession in stoppage time.
The Guineans, bereft of suspended Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, had Ibrahima Conte sent off to death if they bow.
The Gambia’s performance was made all the more remarkable when coach Tom Saintfiet revealed that the squad had been stricken with food poisoning overnight.
“We didn’t feel good about today because many of us had food poisoning, including me. I wasn’t sleeping and I was sitting on the toilet all the time, vomiting and diarrhoea,” he told Canal Plus.
The action of the last 16 continues on Tuesday as Senegal plays Cape Verde in Bafoussam before Morocco takes on Malawi in Yaounde.