Cameroon were given a real scare by an incredibly gutsy performance from Comoros but the hosts moved into the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals with a 2-1 win.
With a left-back in goal and Jimmy Abdou then sent off in the opening minutes, Comoros were right up against it from the off and seemingly on their way to a heavy defeat.
Karl Toko Ekambi and Vincent Aboubakar, with his sixth of the tournament, put Cameroon 2-0 up, but the tournament debutants would not go away and Youssouf M’Changama pulled one back with a brilliant long-range free-kick.
That gave Comoros the chance of a miraculous comeback in the final few minutes, but Cameroon were professional and secured the win. The hosts will face Gambia in the quarter-finals.
The build-up to the biggest match in their history could hardly have gone worse for Comoros. A Covid outbreak of 12 positive cases meant that coach Amir Abdou was missing from the sidelines, while left-back Chaker Alhadhur had to step up and play in goal in the absence of any recognised goalkeepers.
Things didn’t get much better on the pitch, when Abdou was shown a straight red card after less than seven minutes. A VAR review deemed that the challenge on Moumi Ngamaleu from the Comoros captain was worthy of a sending off and it left the minnows with an almost impossible task.
Ekambi and Vincent Aboubakar both fired wide, guilty of failing to test Alhadhur, but the opening goal was inevitable and it came after 29 minutes.
Comoros were caught playing out from the back, and Cameroon had space to break into. It was played forward to Aboubakar, who moved it inside to Ekambi and the winger passed it into the corner of the net to give his side the lead.
It was a brilliant response to going behind from Comoros though, Ahmed Mogni forcing Andre Onana to get down well and save his effort before the goalkeeper reacted to then deny Bendjaloud Youssouf.
Alhadhur made his first save shortly after the break, as Aboubakar headed an effort straight at him when completely free six-yards out. Ekambi then somehow turned a cross wide of the post from a matter of yards, as the Comoros defence started to look ragged.
There were more heroics from Alhadhur, as he pushed out Aboubakar’s curling effort and then jumped up to brilliantly deny Ngamaleu from the follow-up. Aboubakar continued to push for his goal and had the ball in the back of the net, but he was denied by the offside flag after Ekambi strayed beyond the last defender in the build-up.
The striker would get his goal though with 20 minutes remaining, as Martin Hongla slid a lovely ball through and Aboubakar sat Alhadhur down with a step over before finishing at the near post.
Comoros refused to give up, and Onana had to make a great save to deny El Fardou Ben Nabouhane from close range. With 81 minutes on the clock, the deficit was halved. M’Changama lined up a free-kick from 30 yards out, and sent a stunning strike right into the top corner to give his country hope.
There was to be no famous comeback though, but the minnows can take plenty of pride from their performance. For Cameroon, a case of job done and onto the last eight where they will be favourites to get past Gambia.