From 3-0 down, Cameroon wins 3rd-place match on penalties

Cameroon's players celebrate after receiving their medals at the end of the African Cup of Nations 2022 third place soccer match between Burkina Faso and Cameroon at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) — Cameroon produced an epic fightback from 3-0 down to draw level at 3-3 before winning the third-place match against Burkina Faso 5-3 in a penalty shootout at the African Cup of Nations on Saturday.

It won’t erase the host team’s disappointment at missing out on the final but it meant Cameroon at least ended its tournament with a win.

That outcome seemed far-fetched when Burkina Faso went 3-0 up in the 49th minute with a header by Djibril Ouattara.

Tournament leading scorer Vincent Aboubakar came on as a second-half substitute to turn things around for Cameroon.

Stéphane Bahoken pulled the first goal back for Cameroon and Aboubakar scored in the 85th and 87th minutes, helped by two errors by Burkina Faso goalkeeper Farid Ouédraogo, to send the game to penalties.

Blati Touré had the only miss in the shootout, when Cameroon goalkeeper André Onana saved down low with his left hand to make up for his blunder and own-goal in normal time.

Touré’s miss allowed Ambroise Oyongo to step up and win the shootout for Cameroon and at least soften the pain of losing in a shootout to Egypt in the semifinals, when three of Cameroon’s first four penalty-takers missed.

There was an outpouring of relief from the home team and fans, and Cameroon coach Toni Conceicao ended up laughing and celebrating with players when it seemed like it was going to be a dismal end to the tournament for his team.

Burkina Faso led from the 24th minute of an action-packed game at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium through Steeve Yago, who arrived at the back post to meet a deep cross.

Onana’s bad error just before halftime gifted Burkina Faso its second goal when a cross went through the ’keeper’s hands, hit him on the chest and bounced into the net.

Onana almost got away with it when the match officials ruled the ball had gone out of play before Issa Kaboré slid in and hooked it across goal. Moroccan referee Rédouane Jiyed checked with VAR and rightly changed the decision and awarded the goal, and Onana had nowhere to hide.

Unhappy home fans were demanding Cameroon make substitutions at that point.

Conceicao responded by bringing on frontline strikers Aboubakar and Karl Toko Ekambi early in the second half after starting with them on the bench.

Between those substitutions Burkina Faso had made it 3-0 through Ouattara, who was left totally unmarked to cushion a header past Onana.

Bahoken started the comeback in the 71st.

Aboubakar gave Cameroon real hope when he headed in from a corner with five minutes of normal time to go. Ouédraogo had just made two good saves but undid that work by rushing off his line for the corner and getting stranded, leaving an empty net for Aboubakar.

Ouédraogo came venturing out again two minutes later to collect a long ball and collided in the air with a defender, dropping the ball at Aboubakar’s feet and allowing the Cameroon captain to score his eighth goal of the tournament.

Ouédraogo went off injured leaving Aboubacar Sawadogo, Burkina Faso’s third-choice keeper, to face the shootout.

He could do little to stop the momentum, which was all with Cameroon.

Egypt and Senegal will play in Sunday’s African Cup final, when Mohamed Salad and Liverpool teammate Sadio Mané will find themselves on opposing teams as they both chase their first major title with their country.