Cameroon’s highlight of the evening appeared to arrive before the actual game when high spirits had them sashaying down the corridor to the dressing room in vocal form. From here their night nosedived until the 92nd minute when a beauty of a header from Vincent Aboubakar made history as the Indomitable Lions claimed a first win over Brazil.
It was followed by the captain ripping off his shirt in jubilation and being sent off for a second yellow card for the offence and with Switzerland taking three points in their showdown with Serbia Rigobert Song’s side were knocked out.
Brazil ended as Group G victors – on goal difference only – and face South Korea next yet the high-spirits that had Tite’s men arriving at Lusail Stadium singing and dancing too were punctured. If the sight of them jigging and (literally) rocking their coach on arrival had been read by any serious rival as the world’s No 1 side believing it is their destiny to claim a sixth World Cup arrogance may now be the accusation, especially as their talisman, Neymar, was again missing and his injured ankle should rule him out further.
Which team, though, would not be relaxed when the coach can make nine changes and four of those drafted in still be Antony, Gabriel Martinelli, Rodrygo and Gabriel Jesus, and the truth here was that Brazil never got out of second gear.
While only Fred and Éder Militão were retained from victory over Switzerland, the headline fresh name was Dani Alves, who at 39 added winning cap No 125 (drawing level with Roberto Carlos as Brazil’s second highest appearance maker) and becoming his nation’s oldest World Cup captain to the CV of one of the great careers.
Alves enjoyed himself, pitching in free-kicks, ordering teammates about and drifting inside when his side advanced such as when linking with Fred for the latter to drop a ball to the far post where Martinelli’s leap-and-header had Devis Epassy in acrobat mode to repel.
Fred did his own elastic man-thing when pivoting to hit a volley at Epassy’s goal: a deflection meant a corner, Rodrygo’s initial stab in went for a second, and, again, Cameroon escaped.
Until the late winner, this was what Cameroon did: cling on. Brazil, in their blue strip, encircled their area with men and in one clever move Antony somehow saw Martinelli dashing for the penalty spot but the Arsenal man was blocked off.
A booking for Pierre Kunde for clipping Rodrygo, whose after-burners zipped along a diagonal, was Cameroon’s issue in a nutshell: hurtling at them was pace, trickery, invention, and directness. And so it was that a wheezing Collins Fai was the next to see Ismail Elfath’s yellow card waved at him, the referee chuckling mildly at the right-back’s protestations. The foul, once more, was on Rodrygo, Alves’s free-kick poor, but Brazil’s one-way traffic was veering into roadblock territory as Cameroon were trapped at every turn.
When Fred steered the ball to Antony, who was inside Cameroon’s area, regular Manchester United watchers expected the latter to cut inside onto his left and shoot – he did – but the effort lacked direction and could be clutched by Epassy.
Missing from all this ball-hogging act was a Brazil goal. Possession was at 68.4% for them but Tite’s close-to-second string lacked, thus far, cool execution near the posts. Cameroon would love to have this problem. As the interval beckoned an Aboubakar dink into the area that Ederson cleaned up was being written up as one of the very few moments they were allowed close to the Brazil No 1. But, then, in virtually the last play of the half they gave Brazil a fright.
The ball was chipped in from the left from Moumi Ngamaleu and Bryan Mbeumo’s header went into the turf first and skidded up enough for Ederson to have to fly right to prevent the goal.
Before that Martinelli had skipped along the Cameroon area from the left and blazed at Epassy’s goal, the goalkeeper, impressively, saving at a high angle but when the sides reassembled after the break Cameroon still had the chance of the win required to have any chance of last-16 football.
The claiming of a corner by Mbuemo off Bremer was the best way to commence what they hoped would not be their last 45 minutes of Qatar 2022. No dividend was yielded from the kick, though. Better, was an Aboubakar swivel-and-strike that flashed by Ederson and narrowly missed.
Brazil had become a touch complacent, Fred’s mis-control in the centre circle indicative. But now came Martinelli, who seems to have a glide button which he pressed to take him through on goal as if Cameroon’s defence were awol and only Epassy again stopped the goal. This meant yet another corner and when Militão struck the delivery Epassy this time fumbled and recovered in a heart-jolting moment for the keeper.
On view was one team fine-tuning their reserves for the battles ahead and the other hoping to dodge oblivion via the miracle of a win and Switzerland giving up their lead.
The latter did not happen but the former did although it was not enough for Cameroon.