Dubai: This was a superb contest between two different styles of play and by the end of the thrilling 3-3 draw between Cameroon and Serbia I was wishing every game was like this.
Few would have predicted this to be the game of the tournament but it was and by some distance too as two evenly matched teams went at each other at the Al Janoub Stadium desperate for three points.
Defeats in their opening group matches had left both teams on the brink of elimination. But they kept their FIFA World Cup hopes alive with a point apiece.
There was a brilliant intensity to the game which we hadn’t yet seen in Qatar. Cameroon, had taken a first half lead after a corner from the left was flicked on at the near post and Jean-Charles Castelletto was there at the back stick to tap home from close range. It was his first goal for his country but it came slightly against the run of play. Not that Cameroon – who had won just one of their 15 World Cup matches against European opponents – cared. Their last win came against Romania in 1990 and they had been winless in 12 games since.
They didn’t hold on to that lead for long as Serbia levelled with a lovely header from Strahinja Pavlovic and then they went ahead. Andrija Zivkovic laid the ball off to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in space on the edge of the box and the Lazio midfielder powered home a low shot that Devis Epassy to complete a remarkable turnaround.
In the second half we were treated to a beautiful goal. Cameroon were torn apart as Dusan Tadic won the ball on the halfway line and played it to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Four passes later Zivkovic was in space at the far post but instead of shooting he cut onto his left foot before laying the ball off to Aleksandar Mitrovic for a tap in.
But the drama was only just beginning as Cameroon found themselves back in the game thanks to a nonchalant finish by the 6 foot 8 Vincent Aboubakar.
Then a minute later Aboubakar was played in behind the defence again and laid the ball across for Eric Choupo-Moting to tap home to make it 3-3.
With 15 minutes left Cameroon looked a threat every time they went forward with Aboubakar and Choupo-Moting causing mayhem for the Serbia defence. And they just could not deal with Christian Bassogog’s pace down the left wing. They sensed a fourth and pushed Karl Toko-Ekambi a bit further forward almost alongside Choupo-Moting.
Aboubakar had changed the game for Cameroon having come on at half time but it begged the question, why didn’t coach Rigobert Song start him? We could have been looking at a very different result had the huge striker started. He showed Song how dangerous he can be and will likely get a start in their final match against Brazil.
From cruising 3-1, Serbia – who had lost both of their previous World Cup games against African sides – were looking scared stiff but they also kept pushing forward in a bid to snatch it and Mitrovic came close late on.
Both sides went for a win in a bid to reach the last 16 and it made for a thrilling finale.
It ended all square and though both sides can feel extremely proud of their performance, it was the Cameroon players who looked the more buoyant. Serbia, in contrast, looked a little deflated as they walked over to applaud their fans.
For the neutral, this was by far the standout match of the World Cup and will take some beating.