Cameroon sealed the fifth and final African World Cup 2022 qualification slot in dramatic style on Tuesday night, defeating Algeria 2-1 after extra time at the Mustapha Tchaker Stadium in Blida to take the tie on away goals.
The Indomitable Lions join Ghana, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia as CAF representatives at Qatar 2022 thanks to an injury-time strike at the end of 120 minutes from Karl Toko Ekambi which stunned the home crowd and left the Desert Foxes in tears.
Algeria started strongly and had a first clear chance on 13 minutes, when a ball stolen in midfield was fed quickly to Riyad Mahrez, who cut inside from the right and curled a shot high and wide.
Four minutes later they stung the palms of Andre Onana for the first time, with defender Djamel Benlamri shooting from long range to force a punching save from the Cameroon goalkeeper.
The Indomitable Lions gradually grew into the game and claimed the lead somewhat against the run of play in the 22nd minute: a corner kick saw Algeria goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi fumble in contact with one of his own defenders, and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting scored from the loose ball to make it 1-0 to the visitors on the night and 1-1 on aggregate.
Algeria should have levelled the game on 28 minutes when Islam Slimani did well to steal the ball high up the pitch before feeding a perfect low cross for Youcef Belaili, but the Algeria number 10 struck wide of the target with only the ‘keeper to beat.
The Desert Foxes piled on the attacking pressure after the half-hour mark, twice having strong appeals for penalties turned down (with VAR backing referee Bakary Gassama’s on-field decisions) – much to the frustration of the home crowd.
The first half came to a close with the Indomitable Lions still 1-0 to the good, but they thought they had given up their advantage just a few minutes after the restart when Slimani tucked home from close range, but the Algerian striker was correctly flagged offside.
On 55 minutes Mahrez squared up a defender and fired a shot on target with his right foot which was turned over the top by Onana, and the subsequent corner kick saw defender Abdelkader Bedrane miss the target with a free header.
Cameroon, already on the back foot, were dealt a further blow when Choupo-Moting succumbed to injury and was replaced by Nouhou Tolo just after the hour mark.
Yet the Indomitable Lions then missed two great chances to increase their advantage midway through the second half, with M’Bolhi making a great save to deny Leandre Tawamba’s goal-bound header before Martin Hongla latched onto the rebound but saw his effort blocked by Aissa Mandi.
Algeria dialled up the pressure in the dying minutes of regulation time, but they struggled to find a way past Cameroon’s deep-lying defence – with the Central Africans seemingly happy to take the game to an extra 30 minutes.
The first major incident of extra time saw Slimani find the back of the net in the 98th minute after getting onto the end of substitute Ahmed Touba’s cross, but the goal was disallowed after a VAR review, with referee Gassama indicating a hand-ball after watching a replay – a harsh decision given that the ball appeared to come off the striker’s shoulder.
Chances continued to come for the North Africans through the first half of extra time and into the second, with Ismail Bennacer notably forcing a fine save from Onana with a powerful drive in the 112th minute.
However, the Desert Foxes were finally rewarded for their persistence in the 119th minute, as Touba headed home from Rachid Ghezzal’s corner kick to make it 1-1 on the night and put Algeria 2-1 up on aggregate.
That seemed to be the end of the road for Cameroon, but deep in injury time they claimed a stunning winner – with Michael Ngadeu’s flick-on turned home by Karl Toko-Ekambi – to see the tie finish 2-2 on aggregate, but with the Indomitable Lions claiming an eighth World Cup qualification on the away goals rule.