Hosts Cameroon on Monday set up an Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final against the Gambia, but only after laboring to a 2-1 win over a Comoros side who were forced to start an outfield player in goal and played most of the game with 10 men.
Leftback Chaker Alhadhur started between the posts for the Comoros in Yaounde after two of their three goalkeepers were ruled out due to COVID-19, while the other was missing due to injury.
The Comoros then had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes, and Karl Toko-Ekambi put Cameroon in front before skipper Vincent Aboubakar netted his sixth goal of the tournament.
However, it was a heroic performance from the Comoros, who kept the last-16 tie alive until the end thanks to Youssouf M’Changama’s stunning late free-kick.
“I don’t think I am 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 back-up left-back for French Ligue 2 side AC Ajaccio, told broadcaster Canal Plus.
He had to use tape to mark out his number three on the back of his goalkeeper’s jersey.
Of being chosen to go in goal he said: “It was something that at first we spoke a bit about and laughed about, but then it became serious.”
“I was chosen, but I didn’t believe it until I put on the gloves and the top. Then I realized it was serious,” Alhadhur said. “There were lots of emotions going through my head, but then I just got on with it.”
The tiny 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 best third-placed teams in the group stage.
However, their dream turned to a nightmare as a total of 12 players and staff tested positive for COVID-19 two days before the tie, including coach Amir Abdou, but they never gave up.
Nevertheless, it was Cameroon who advances to a last-eight tie in Douala against the Gambia on Saturday.
Like the Comoros, a Gambia side ranked 150th in the world are appearing at their first ever Cup of Nations, but they upset the odds to beat Guinea 1-0 in the western city of Bafoussam earlier on on Monday thanks to a terrific second-half strike by Bologna’s Musa Barrow.
The Gambia then held on with 10 men at the end after Yusupha Njie was sent off, as Guinea hit the woodwork twice in quick succession in stoppage time.
Guinea, deprived of suspended Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, had Ibrahima Conte sent off at the death as they bow out.
The Gambia’s achievement was all the more remarkable as coach Tom Saintfiet revealed the squad was affected by food poisoning during the night.
“We didn’t have a good feeling about today, because many of us had food poisoning, including me. I didn’t sleep and was up at the toilet all the time, vomiting and with diarrhea,” he told Canal Plus.
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