Yaounde, Cameroon: Hosts Cameroon made heavy work of beating 10-man Comoros Islands 2-1 on Monday to advance to the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals at the expense of a team who had everything stacked against them in the last 16.
Karl Toko Ekambi and Vincent Aboubakar scored the home team’s goals at the Olembe Stadium to eliminate the debutants, who were forced to use a full back in goal and had their captain sent off after six minutes.
But Comoros still put up a gallant fight and, despite the considerable disadvantage, pulled a goal back from Youssouf M’Changama with nine minutes remaining to depart the tournament with their reputations considerably enhanced.
Cameroon meet upstarts Gambia in the last eight in Douala on Saturday after they upset Guinea 1-0 in Bafoussam earlier on Monday.
Ravaged by COVID-19 infections, Comoros had no goalkeeper available for the game, bringing left back Chaker Alhadhur into service, plus had to do without coach Amir Abdou, who is also in quarantine.
The situation worsened considerably six minutes into the game when captain Nadjim Abdou was dismissed for a lunging tackle that caught Nicolas Moumi on the Achilles tendon.
The red card, however, was only issued after the Ethiopian referee Bamlak Tessema had been advised to review the incident on the pitch side VAR screen.
Cameroon, five-time African champions, went on the attack from the start but were met by spirited resistance.
Their first efforts from Aboubakar and Toko Ekambi were both wide of the target, failing to test the makeshift goalkeeper, before a simple inside pass from captain Aboubakar left Toko Ekambi with an easy finish to open the scoring in the 29th minute.
Alhadhur made several sharp, albeit unorthodox saves to keep Cameroon at bay until Aboubakar slipped around the defence to latch onto a clever through pass and make it 2-0 with 20 minutes left.
But Comoros were in no mind to pack the defence and El Fardou Ben Mohamed forced a flying save out of Andre Onana in the 79th minute before M’Changama then beat the goalkeeper with a superb long range freekick.
All three goalkeepers for the small island nation had been ruled out of the match on the eve of the tie “- one through injury and two after testing COVID-19 positive last week.
But Ali Ahamada returned a new negative test and was pronounced fit to play by the Comoros Football Federation in a medical bulletin on Monday, only for his participation to be later ruled out by the Confederation of African Football.
Their medical commission said any player who had been in quarantine would have to wait a minimum of five days before being allowed to return to play.
Instead, the Comoros fielded the 30-year-old defender Alhadhur, who had his squad number plastered on an oversized goalkeeping jersey and whose first touch was to head the ball clear from the edge of his box.
He did not make an actual save until late in the first half in what almost turned into a fairytale performance.