By Beng Emmanuel
Cameroon have progressed to the play-offs of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers after beating Côte D’Ivoire 1-0 at the Japoma Stadium in Douala.
The Indomitable Lions needed just a win to advance to the third and final round qualifiers where Africa’s five representatives for the 32-nation quadrennial football tournament will be known, while their opponents needed just a draw.
Karl Toko Ekambi scored the match winner in the first half to condemn the Elephants to their first defeat in the qualifiers at the worst time.
It had looked like a difficult night for Cameroon who were forced to make their first substitution after Nouhou Tolo dislocated his right shoulder early only 3 minutes into the tie and was replaced by Olivier Mbaizo.
The five time African champions enjoyed lengthy periods of possession while looking for the incisive final pass against a well drilled and composed Ivorian side that kept their shape well.
But after a cagey start, the Indomitable Lions finally got their lead. It took the host 22 minutes to fashion their first clean sight at goal which enabled Karl Toko Ekambi find the breakthrough. The Olympic of Lyon in-form striker collected a pass from Martin Hongla and fired past the Ivorian keeper to put his side to a positive start.
The Elephants almost leveled scores after a patient buildup from the left flank but Franck Kessie’s close range strike was saved by Andre Onana.
Cameroon had two good late chances to bury the game in the first half. Vincent Aboubakar’s superbly curled strike from the edge of the box was saved by Sylvain Gbohouo while Nicolas Ngamaleu was denied a glorious opening after a timely last ditch tackle from Manchester United centre-back Eric Bailly.
Cameroon managed the tempo of the second half with ease but Cote D’Ivoire came off the break a different team and determined to create an upset. The visitors had plenty of chances but lacked the cutting edge to change the course of the game.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Tawamba Kana and Lea Siliki were lively after coming on midway through the encounter but rarely clicked. Despite their offensive absence the Indomitable Lions held on and stood firm to defend their lead.
Cote D’Ivoire almost provided a late drama through Sebastien Haller and Nicolas Pepe in the closing stages but Coach Antonio Conceicao and his team claimed an important win before 25,000 fans that roared them to victory.
The result means Cameroon finished top of group D with 15 points. They are now two matches away from returning to the World cup after missing out in 2018. They join nine other nations to reach the play-offs which will take place in March next year.
Morocco, Senegal, Mali, DR Congo, Ghana, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Tunisia have all booked their places.
Cameroon 1-0 Cote D’Ivoire
Toko Ekambi 21’
2. Ivory Coast-13pts
QUALIFIED for the play-offs.
TOP 5 Ranked
1⃣ 🇸🇳 Senegal
2⃣ 🇲🇦 Morocco
3⃣ 🇩🇿 Algeria
4⃣ 🇹🇳 Tunisia
5⃣ 🇳🇬 Nigeria
6⃣ 🇪🇬 Egypt
7⃣ 🇨🇲 Cameroon
8⃣ 🇲🇱 Mali
9⃣ 🇬🇭 Ghana
🔟 🇨🇩 DR Congo
The draw will take place on 18 December 2021
Matches come off in March 2022