Cameroon 3 Serbia 3
Aboubakar inspired Cameroon fightback...but is it too little too late?
There may have been a particularly avid viewer at Doha airport when Cameroon's stand-in goalkeeper came off his line to foil Aleksandar Mitrovic in the dying minutes of this World Cup thriller.
An unorthodox save from an unlikely hero as Devis Epassy, who plays for a mid-table Saudi Arabian club, deflected a chipped effort off his face to keep his nation's tournament just about alive.
Some irony, then, that he got his big chance between the sticks hours after first-choice goalkeeper André Onana walked out on the squad after being asked to play “more conventionally”.
The sulking Inter Milan goalkeeper was either already in the air en route or watching from the departure lounge by the time this rollercoaster match finished. But so pleased was Rigobert Song with his side's stirring fightback that he suggested all might yet be forgiven if Onana is still on the ground in Qatar. “For the time being I have asked him to wait – to see if is going to stay with us,” said the manager and former Liverpool and West Ham United defender. “I have asked him to respect the rules and maybe come back into the squad.”
On the basis of this match, however, Onana may face some resistance if he did tear up his plan ticket. Onana is one of the team's leading players but a starting place for what now promises to be a huge match against Brazil would be likely only if the outcast swallows some humble pie.
“Of course the goalkeeper position is an important one and he is an important player but we are in a difficult tournament and I know what have to do and that is to ensure the team takes precedence over individuals,” Song added.
The performance from Epassy, only his sixth outing in a Cameroon shirt, was shaky at times but the manager said “togetherness” had been essential in his side's stirring fightback from 3-1 down.
Serbia struck twice in added time before the interval through Strahinja Pavlovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and looked in complete control when Mitrovic finished off an excellent team move to put his side 3-1 up early in the second half.
However, Cameroon avoided a record-equalling ninth successive defeat in the World Cup finals inspired by a brilliant scooped finish from substitute Vincent Aboubakar. Three minutes later, he then set up Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting to bring Cameroon level.
The celebrations led by a joyful show of dancing and drumming in the stands showed they could do just fine without Onana.
“That's part of our DNA as Cameroon footballers,” Song said of a comeback and a jubilant party evoking memories of Roger Milla doing his hip jiggle at the corner flag at Italia 1990.
Song said he would eventually explain in detail how he and Onana had fallen out, but he said the team may have been galvanised by the show of emotion. “Perhaps you need to take strong action to make people realise what need,” he said. “I took a risk. I realise that. But I accept responsibility for the decision... I am like a father to these boys and at the end of the day I am responsible.”
Song said he would only confirm Onana was out of the squad for “disciplinary” reasons. “We are talking about one of the best keepers in Europe who plays for one of the best clubs. We are not questioning his ability”.
But he added: “In a squad you need to see discipline and if you can't fit in with what's required – to be part of a squad – then I do think you need to step up to the plate and accept responsibility. The team is more important than the individual... we are going to have time to explain more later on.... but at the moment we focus on those who are proud to put on that shirt. We will be okay”.
Brazil and Switzerland remain firm favourites to progress from the group, but Song added: “It is possible and we believe in ourselves – we did not turn up just to go through motions. We believe everything is possible”.
Despite having a transfer value less than Onana's monthly salary, Epassy, Song added, “was able to show he was capable of being in the first team”. Epassy had stopped two efforts from Mitrovic, who could have had four goals. He had struck the post in the first half with a delicious curling effort but aimed another shot tamely wide.
“We took it too easily and we lost points too easily,” said Serbia manager Dragan Stojkovic assessing an uphill task for the nation. “We still have chances... we seem to like this difficult road to take”.
Cameroon (4-3-3): Epassy 5; Fai 6, Castelletto 5, N'Koulou 7, Tolo; Zambo Anguissa 6 (Oum Gouet 81), Kunde 6 (Ondoua 67, 7), Hongla 5 (Aboubakar 55, 8); Mbeumo 6 (Nkoudou 81, 6), Choupo-Moting 6, Toko Ekambi 7.
Booked: N'Koulou, Bassogog.
Goals: Castelletto (29), Aboubakar (63), Choupo-Moting (66).
Subs not used: Ngapandouetnbu, Mbekeli, Wooh, Ngamaleu, Nsame, Mbaizo, Ntcham, Ebosse, Marou.
Serbia (3-4-2-1): Vanja Milinkovic-Savic 6; Milenkovic 5, Veljkovic 5 (Babic 78, 5), Pavlovic 6 (Stefan Mitrovic 56, 5); Zivkovic 6 (Radonjic 78, 5), Lukic 6, Maksimovic 5, Kostic 6; Milinkovic-Savic 6 (Grujic 79, 5), Tadic 7; Aleksandar Mitrovic 7.
Booked: Milenkovic, Jovic.
Goals: Pavlovic (45+1), S Milinkovic-Savic (45+3), Mitrovic (53).
Subs not used: Dmitrovic, Erakovic, Gudelj, Jovic, Rajkovic, Vlahovic, Racic, Lazovic, Ilic, Mladenovic.
Referee: Mohammed Abdulla Hassan (UAE).
Tom Morgan with the latest on the Onana row
Cameroon's goalscoring supersub Aboubakar refuses to be drawn on mysterious goalkeeper row pre-match. "No problem in the camp - he was just not feeling too great," the No 10 insists. "That was all that happened."
We'll hear what the boss, Song, has to say shortly....
Mitrovic's late chance
A picture that reflects an unsatisfactory result
FT: Cameroon 3 Serbia 3
One of the most exciting games of the tournament. Cameroon score a moral victory, having looking well beaten at 3-1 down after 60 minutes. Aboubakar scored one and set up the equaliser in an inspired performance off the bench. But it means Cameroon are probably still heading home, unless they do something extraordinary against Brazil.
Serbia had that game in the palm of their hand, but blew up in a terrible spell in which they lost their shape. They will now need to beat Switzerland on Friday, which should be a cracker. Switzerland will be pleased with that result.
This time Epassy keeps his nerve to catch a long-range strike from Djuricic. Time looks to be up as Cameroon launch one last attack...which runs through to the goalkeeper.
That was a rash challenge from Milenkovic on Nkoudou, just to the left of the penalty area. It gives Cameroon the chance to deliver into the penalty area. Nkoudo whipped it with pace, but it is straight into the goalkeeper's bread basket. Good hands from Milinkovic-Savic to take cleanly.
Cameroon grateful for the referee awarded them a free-kick for a foul just outside their own area. It gives them a chance to move up the pitch.
There will be SIX minutes of added time.
Good save from Epassy as Mitrovic looked to lift the ball over him! The offside flag went up in any case. Serbia's attacking players still looking dangerous.
Is there a winner in this? Crazy game which has highlighted both teams' frailties.
Kostic in again down that left flank, Bassogog switched off defensively, but once again his delivery let him down with that trusty left foot. His cross is skewed straight into the goalkeeper's arms. Surely he will get one of those right, too good not to.
Then Tadic squares for Mitrovic in the area, who cannot wrap his right foot around it. Curling shot flies past the post.
Aboubakar has been sensational since coming on, and this time he stings the palms of Milinkovic-Savic with a rasper of shot from distance. A yard or two either side of the goalkeeper and that would have been interesting.
Bassogog causing all manner of problems down the right, exposing Serbia in the wing-back position. Looks a real threat every time he gets the ball.
Tadic does well to win a foul in midfield. Taken quickly for Kostic to gallop down the left, but his pull back was behind all of the white shirts.
Serbia counter-punch. Kostic feeds a dangerous ball across the six-yard box from the left but no player could get a decisive touch to it. Cameroon arguably are in greater need of the win with Brazil to come in their last game.
There's Cameroon's equaliser
Cameroon back on the attack and have a corner. Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, the former Spurs winger, is on for them. Mbuemo has come off. His first task is to take a corner and his delivery was weak. Serbia look to have gone more defensive since the changes.
In fact, Serbia have decided against bringing on Jovic. Djuricic, Babic and Radonjic have been introduced instead in a triple change. Serbia trying to tighten things up.
Mitrovic gets in behind but fair play to Epassy who stood firm and got something behind his shot from a tight angle. Tadic then tries a backheel in the box but it is all too intricate. Jovic about to come of form Serbia.
Aboubakar in the thick of the action again, this time escaping punishment for kicking the ball away. Cameroon winger Bassogog is on and looking very tricky with his dribbling. Milinkovic-Savic tries a first-time pass around the corner but his radar is off.
More chaotic goalkeeping from Epassy but Choupo-Moting gets him out of trouble with an important defensive intervention. As things stand, this is a great result for Switzerland.
Cameroon are flying forward again, but Fai's cross from the right is claimed by goalkeeper Milinkovic-Savic. Still 25 minutes or more left in this game. Serbia will be furious that this game has gone helter-skelter.
GOOOOALLL! Cameroon are level!
What a game this is turning into. Both teams have collapsed at different moments. What an impact Aboubakar has had on this game, causing chaos with his movement in behind. This time he gets his head up in the right channel and feeds a ball across the box for Choupo-Moting to tap in.
Another Var check for offside...but it stands. Cameroon 3 Serbia 3.
GOOOAAALL! Goal given for Cameroon
I don't think Aboubakar himself thought that was going to be given, but the semi-automated offside says it should! Cameroon back in with a shout. It was a wonderful finish.
Milinkovic-Savic pulling the strings again in midfield, this has been a really classy performance. Cameroon still trying to push numbers forward but Tolo's shot with the inside of his foot was tame.
Aboubakar with a delightful scooped finish over the goalkeeper but the flag goes up for offside! Did he know? It was a very impudent effort.
Cameroon throwing caution to the wind now, Aboubakar has been introduced from the bench as another forward option. He goes on a mazy dribble into the box and very nearly gets a shot away, before Mbuemo stands up a decent cross towards the back post.
That's a lovely delivery from Mbuemo for Cameroon, narrowly evading the head of Choupo-Moting. Cameroon's hopes are fading. Defeat here would leave them needing to beat Brazil and still hope Serbia vs Switzerland goes their way.
GOOOOAAALL! Mitrovic wraps the game up
It's a beautifully worked Serbia goal, a move which finishes with their centre-forward scoring a tap-in. Both Milinkovic-Savic and Zivkovic could have taken on the shot, but they kept their heads to play the extra pass. Squared for Mitrovic to tap into the empty net. A proper training ground goal.
Who has impressed you most so far?
Rate both sets of players with our live ratings tool. Cameroon's goalkeeper Epassy might struggle...
Serbia finding it oh so easy to work the ball through the thirds to the edge of the Cameroon box, but this time the flag goes up against Tadic. Cameroon hanging on, though not exactly for dear life. They look pretty dispirited and disinterested.
Really loose pass into the centre of midfield from Mbuemo but Serbia do not make him pay. If Serbia get the next goal you would have to call that curtains for Cameroon. Very good defending from Pavlovic up against Mbuemo.
Then Serbia cut through down the left. Tadic slipped a lovely ball in behind for Kostic, but the goalkeeper got an all-important touch on the cut back towards Mitrovic.
We're back under way!
Cameroon kick off, and need to rediscover their composure and shape.
Would Onana have saved that Milinkovic-Savic shot?
HT: Cameroon 1 Serbia 2
45 minutes of football which swung one way and then the next. Cameroon very nearly disintegrated at the end there, they might be happy to get in just the one goal down.
Mitrovic missed a sitter earlier in the half, Cameroon grew into and carried a threat down their right flank, but Serbia really turned the screw once behind.
This is a crazy end to the half. First Mitrovic sees a shot deflected behind with Cameroon in danger of collapsing completely, then Milinkovic-Savic comes rushing out of his goal at the other end and Mbuemo very nearly beats him to it. It's all happening.
GOOOOAAALL! Serbia have turned it around
Milinkovic-Savic has been excellent for Serbia, and his strike gives them the lead on the stroke of half time. Anguissa caught on the ball in midfield when Cameroon should really have been playing for territory. Milinkovic-Savic took on the shot with his left foot from 20 yards, and it slips beyond Epassy who got a hand it it. Not great goalkeeping. Penny for Onana's thoughts etc etc.
Serbia putting Cameroon under real pressure now, launching a long throw into the box.
Cameroon struggling to clear their lines here.
GOOOOAAAALLL! Serbia are level
It's another goal from a set-piece. Serbia with a free-kick from a central position, 40 yards out or so. Tadic clipped a driven ball towards the six-yard line, and there was the defender Pavlovic to plant a header into the far corner. Excellent header, rare you see free-kicks in that position lead to goals.
SIX minutes of additional time to play
Another healthy period of stoppage time.
More than half a chance for Cameroon to score the second goal! Kunde driving forward after pinching the ball in midfield, putting his head down and drilling straight at the goalkeeper from the edge of the box. The rebound bounced back to him but Kunde got the second try all wrong, off balance.
Serbia rallying now, Cameroon need to get through this sticky spell and reach half time with the lead.
Delicious scooped pass from Tadic for the onrushing Kostic down the left flank, but his pull back was met by a last-ditch block from Fai. Mitrovic not happy with the quality of the cross.
Milinkovic-Savic has been linked with a transfer from Lazio to the Premier League for several windows, and you can see why on this performance. Constantly putting out fires for Serbia and breaking up play.
Neat interplay from Serbia, who are finding their feet again. Another cross from the right floated up towards Mitrovic. Does not win the header cleanly but the ball runs for Kostic, who cuts it back for the unmarked Tadic to blast over the bar. Up goes the offside flag in any case.
There's that right-sided threat again from Cameroon, but Fai overhits his cross after coming back on from the touchline. He got a kick on his ankle in the previous attack. Andros Townsend on ITV advises him to keep his boot on at half time to stop his ankle ballooning.
Cameroon goalkeeper Epassy will feel better for that, claiming a high ball at the second attempt under pressure from Mitrovic.
Cameroon's biggest threats are coming down their right, Fai Collins and Mbuemo linking up well. Good defending again from Milinkovic-Savic to track Fai's overlapping run.
Serbia straight back on the attack and fizzing the ball into the Cameroon penalty area, but play stops with Nkoulou down after taking a whack in a delicate area. This game could be really stretched now.
GOOOOOAAALL! Cameroon in front
The entire Cameroon squad, subs and all, have rushed to the far corner flag to celebrate with Castelletto! It was a corner whipped in from the left towards the near post and Cameroon won the flick-on, and there was Castelletto ghosting in around the back to tap in unmarked. It looked in danger of being offside, but replays show he was clearly on.
The game is still goalless but there has been plenty of incident. Mitrovic involved again as he competes for a long ball forward with Castelletto, and the Cameroon defender collapsed to the turf claiming he was caught in the face by an elbow. Nothing much in the challenge, really. Tadic picked up the second ball, and Serbia were close to picking a way through but Cameroon survive. Decent contest, both teams going for it.
Nkoulou shown a yellow card from catching Zivkovic in the face close to the corner flag. It looked very soft indeed and the Serbian player's melodramatics made sure the referee noticed. Tadic goes across to take from a dangerous position, but it floats over the head of Mitrovic.
Cute pass into the penalty area from Serbia's right wing-back Zivkovic, but an outstretched leg from Nkoulou puts it behind for a corner. Lots of grappling from both sets of players, and they end up in a heap but nothing doing for the referee.
Decent delivery from Mbuemo on Cameroon's right, whipping a ball with his left foot across the face of goal.
Then Mbuemo's movement pulls Serbian defenders toward him, creating space in behind for Kunde to break into. He takes on an ambitious shot on the bounce from a tight angle, and caught it well, but straight at Milinkovic-Savic who punched clear.
Good defending from the midfielder Milinkovic-Savic to snuff out the subsequent danger.
Nkoulou takes on a silly shot from 25 yards with his left foot, dragging it horribly high and wide.
The Mitrovic misses a great chance at the other end after a defensive mess for Cameroon! Nkoulou tried to hook a cross clear, but drilled it into the head of his-team mate beside him, and it fell perfectly for Mitrovic seven or eight yards out. Everyone was waiting for the net to bulge but he dragged it wide.
Now Cameroon have a player down. Hongla is down on the turf, and is forced off the pitch to receive treatment for what looks an ankle problem. Cameroon down to 10 for the time being. Serbia in control, and continue to probe.
Mitrovic hits the post! It was a fantastic piece of skill and composure to put Nkoulou on his backside as he went towards the bar-line, chopping inside on to his weaker left foot and unleashing a shot against the woodwork. Cracking effort.
Cameroon establishing some possession in midfield, and they try to flip a ball over the top for Mbuemo to chase down the right but there was too much on it. Neither goalkeeper has been tested just yet, quiet start for Onana's deputy Epassy.
Rigobert Song is clearly not a fan of short passing out from the back, hence the argument with Onana, and his team almost caught Serbia overplaying around their own box. The high turnover did not result in a shot, though.
Serbia respond and cross the halfway line again, feeding another cross towards Mitrovic from Milinkovic-Savic, but the Fulham striker's header looped over the bar.
Serbia lining up with a back three, Kostic and Zivkovic pushed on as wing-backs. The pair will look to whip crosses in for Mitrovic to attack, while there is the creativity of Tadic in central areas. It is Serbia who have started on the front foot, playing most of the game in Cameroon's half in the early exchanges.
An early worry for Serbia with Mitrovic crumpled on the turf. He challenged with Hongla for an aerial ball and landed awkwardly, grimacing as he holds his ankle. After receiving some medical attention and a dose of magic spray, he is fit to continue.
Serbia get us started, playing all in white. What effect will the Onana situation have on his Cameroon team-mates?
The players are on their way out
Time for the national anthems. A win for Serbia today would set up a heck of a contest against Switzerland on Friday night. Kostic, the attacking Juventus wing-back, comes into their team.
Onana being dropped...
I think we can understand "traditional style of play" as an instruction to kick longer, something Onana evidently disagreed with. He caught the eye of clubs across Europe with his distribution at Ajax, earning a move to Inter after interest from Arsenal.
Cameroon's fans are bringing the noise
The latest from Tom Morgan: Onana dropped after fall-out
Very low numbers here at Al Janoub Stadium, but the big news pre kick off is that Inter Milan's André Onana, Cameroon's star goalkeeper, has been dropped from the starting line after a huge fall out with boss Rigobert Song.
He is still listed as on the bench in the Fifa official line up, but there is no sign of him and African journalists say he is already en route home.
There have been claims a rift prompted Samuel Eto'o to intervene and suggest Onana should accept Song's request for him to play with a more "traditional" playing style.
However, there was no breakthrough and it appears he has now walked out on the squad.
A big afternoon beckons for back keeper Devis Epassy, who plays in the Saudi pro league. For Serbia, Aleksandar Mitrović will be licking his lips.
Serbia's manager says they are short of full fitness
"You are well aware of the fact that we came with a lot of problems to Qatar," Stojkovic said.
"We have a lot of injuries to deal with and that is not the right time (for that), especially because it's among the players who are the key players of our team, unfortunately.
"The intensity was really high in the second half, we gave too much space to the Brazilians. But the key point for me is that my team physically was completely down -- so I want to know why, because I don't. This is a sur
Where does Cameroon's kit rank?
No sleeveless shirts for Cameroon in this World Cup, but where does their home jersey rank in Thom Gibbs' kit ratings? Find out here.
Now you know the teams...what is your prediction?
The teams...Vlahovic stays on the bench, two changes from Cameroon
Cameroon XI: Epassy, Fai, Castelletto, N'Koulou, Tolo, Zambo, Kunde, Hongla, Mbeumo, Choupo-Moting, Toko Ekambi.
Subs: Ngapandouetnbu, Mbekeli, Wooh, Ondoua, Ngamaleu, Nkoudou, Nsame, Aboubakar, Bassogog, Gouet, Mbaizo, Ntcham, Ebosse, Marou.
Serbia XI: Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, Milenkovic, Veljkovic, Pavlovic, Zivkovic, Lukic, Maksimovic, Kostic, Tadic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Aleksandar Mitrovic
Subs: Dmitrovic, Erakovic, Radonjic, Gudelj, Jovic, Rajkovic, Stefan Mitrovic, Babic, Vlahovic, Racic, Djuricic, Lazovic, Ilic, Mladenovic, Grujic.
Revisiting our predictions and analysis of this group
Reasons for both teams to be optimistic
Cameroon and Serbia are two nations hoping the trend of one good game, one bad game in this World Cup group stages continues as they seek to recover from opening game defeats.
There was no shame in losing to Brazil for Serbia, who actually put up an hour of well-organised and obdurate resistance against the tournament favourites. The big tactical decision for manager and legendary former Yugoslavia player Dragan Stojkovic is whether there is a way to pair Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic in the same attack. The Fulham striker was preferred against Brazil with Vlahovic coming off the bench. Serbia were free-scoring in qualifying and in Dusan Tadic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic they possess plenty of midfield quality.
Cameroon were made to pay for missed opportunities on the counter-attack by Switzerland, but their display was promising enough to suggest they could still find a way through the group. A front three of Lyon forward Karl Toko Ekambi, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Bryan Mbuemo carries enough threat to trouble most opponents in the competition. Goalkeeper Andre Onana and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa are both thriving in Serie A with Inter Milan and Napoli respectively.
Cameroon coach Rigobert Song played down suggestions that his team are under unfair pressure from former star Samuel Eto'o, who predicted an all-African World Cup final between his nation and Morocco before the tournament began.
"The president of the federation is passionate about football. He was a footballer himself, he lives, breathes and dreams football but he does not put any burden or stress on our shoulders," Song told reporters on Sunday.
"That is not why my players didn't score against Switzerland. I would say sometimes he even wants to put on the jersey and get out on the pitch to play, because he wants to give everything."
Full team news on the way shortly.