Breaking down the chaos of Cameroon’s AFCON classic with The Gambia – Goals, VAR and no Onana


The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations has been packed full of drama already but it reached new heights on Tuesday as Cameroon and The Gambia exchanged four goals — one disallowed — in about ten minutes in a chaotic finish to Group D.

The week began with drama in Group B with Ghana, whose elimination was confirmed on Tuesday, conceding twice in stoppage time against Mozambique to throw away a 2-0 lead. And the rollercoaster ride that is this season’s AFCON continued apace a day later.

A few hours before Algeria were eliminated, five-times winners Cameroon needed a victory over The Gambia to progress and Rigobert Song’s side ultimately prevailed with the help of a stand-in goalkeeper, a late comeback…. and VAR.

For those unfortunate to miss it in real time, fear not. The Athletic has gone back through the extraordinary ending to help you relive it.

Here we go…


How the chaotic finale unfolded

81 minutes, 42 seconds With the game at 1-1, the first domino falls as Ablie Jallow, who had scored The Gambia’s 72nd-minute equaliser, pulls up with an apparent hamstring injury. After treatment on the pitch lasting more than a minute, he leaves the game distraught using his shirt to cover his face and the emotions on show.

83:55 Ebrima Colley, cousin of captain Omar Colley, is introduced to replace Jallow on the right wing.

84:28 Just over 30 seconds after coming on, Ebrima Colley exchanges a one-two with fellow substitute Assan Ceesay before finishing brilliantly past Cameroon goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa, who has surprisingly been picked ahead of Manchester United’s Andre Onana, to make it 2-1. Cameroon’s appeals for offside fail to overturn the decision.

86:22 After elaborate celebrations that in which the majority of The Gambia team leave the field to share the moment with the supporters, the game restarts with Cameroon’s kick off.

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Colley celebrates scoring his team’s second goal (Photo: Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

86:54 Thirty-two seconds later, Cameroon level the score again as James Gomez turns Enzo Tchato’s low cross into his own net, despite goalkeeper Baboucarr Gaye being well placed behind him to intercept. The Cameroon players waste no time in collecting the ball from the net and rushing to get the game restarted, in the knowledge that only a victory will help them into the knockouts.

87:38 The Gambia restart the game with their kick off.

88:11 Alieu Fadera is shown a yellow card after fouling Nouhou Tolo and then delivering a barrage of abuse towards referee Tessema Bamlak. From the resulting free kick, a touch off one of The Gambia defenders leads to a corner for Cameroon.

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89:50 While Cameroon wait to take their corner, the fourth official raises his board and indicates that there will be a minimum of nine minutes added on.

90:03 Former Tottenham winger Georges-Kevin N’Koudou delivers the corner and Christopher Wooh rises above his marker to head past Gaye and into the net to make it 3-2, sparking wild celebrations that sees the Cameroon team, and some of the unused substitutes, run towards the supporters in the stands. Wooh is then smothered in a school playground-like pile on.

92:03 After two minutes of celebrations, Cameroon have to refocus as The Gambia restart the game with, at least, seven minutes still to be played.

92:35 The attack that The Gambia launch from kick-off leads to them winning their seventh corner of the match and everyone in a red shirt makes their way into the penalty area to help attack it.

92:56 Ebrima Colley gets ahead of his marker, Olivier Ntcham, from the corner and the ball flies into the net to make it 3-3. But Ondoa is gesturing to the referee that the 23-year-old used his hand instead of his head. Off to VAR we go…

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94:22 Referee Bamlak is advised by VAR to go to the onfield monitor and review the decision because of the handball suspicion. The television replays suggest that the goal is going to be disallowed as Colley had, quite clearly, used his hand.

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95:06 Having viewed all of the available angles, Bamlak communicates to the players and those inside the stadium that the goal has been disallowed for handball. The score remains 3-2 to Cameroon and Colley somehow avoids punishment for deliberate handball.

95:48 In the aftermath of that decision, Muhammed Sanneh becomes the third Gambian player to be shown a yellow card.

96:15 Cameroon look to shut up shop having survived the scare from a couple of minutes prior. Left winger N’Koudou, the creator of two of his side’s three goals, is replaced by centre-back Harold Moukoudi.

98:26 And, for the next two minutes, that defensive switch has done the trick for Cameroon who are heading for the corner courtesy of Tolo’s driving run from left-back. He earns his team a corner, which they take short and continue to hold in the corner.

99:50 Newcastle United-owned teenager Yankuba Minteh has the ball in the Cameroon final third and has the opportunity to get the ball into the box but he is crowded out and has to settle for a throw-in.

100:03 But there is no time for the throw-in to be taken as Bamlak blows the whistle for full time, sparking an outpouring of emotion from both of sets players.

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What was the fallout?

The pre-match discourse was dominated by Song’s decision to start Ondoa in goal ahead of Onana, and it was a decision that paid off. The Nimes goalkeeper made five saves and conceded two goals from 2.96 xGOT (expected goals on target), an improvement on Onana zero-save performance against Senegal last Friday.

But, after the game, all the talk was of one of the all-time great AFCON matches.

Speaking to beIN Sports afterwards, Cameroon’s Napoli midfielder Frank Anguissa said: “It was a great match against a great team who gave everything, well done to them. And even more bravo to my team-mates who believed in this victory despite everything.

“At half time, I said to them ‘Guys, I believe in you’. I told them to believe in me, to believe in this group. Today they showed that we are a great team and working well together can get us through any kind of difficulty.”

It turned out to be Tom Saintfiet’s final match as manager of The Gambia as he resigned immediately after the defeat.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

AFCON 2023 permutations: Ghana and Algeria crash out but how can Ivory Coast reach knockout stage?

(Top photo: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)





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