Cameroon and Burkina Faso qualified for the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday with Karl Toko-Ekambi’s double leading the hosts to a 2-0 win over Gambia before the Stallions edged Tunisia 1-0 in the late game.
French-born Lyon striker Toko-Ekambi scored twice in the space of eight minutes at the start of the second half in Douala as Cameroon played their first game at the tournament since the deadly crush in Yaounde.
His goals led to ecstatic scenes of celebration and they were just reward for Cameroon, who completely dominated against a Gambian side appearing in their first Cup of Nations.
“We are proud to be in the semi-finals,” said Toko-Ekambi and Cameroon march on to a last-four showdown with Egypt or Morocco as they continue their quest for a sixth continental title.
The host nation’s first and only visit to the country’s economic capital in the tournament meant there was always going to be a frenzied atmosphere in the port city as fans descended on the 50,000-capacity Japoma Stadium.
The Indomitable Lions had not taken to the field since Monday’s tragic crush prior to their game against the Comoros in Yaounde which left eight dead and 38 injured.
Authorities in Douala massively stepped up their security operation around the ground in an attempt to avoid any repeat.
Army officers with rifles stood atop buildings lining the route to the stadium while vast numbers of police patrolled the streets and watched over entrances.
On the eve of the game Cameroon’s sports minister announced a raft of measures aimed at avoiding a repeat of the Olembe disaster.
Those included stopping the distribution of free tickets and banning children under 11 from attending games.
The minister also urged supporters to arrive earlier, and the gates at Japoma opened five hours prior to kick-off.
That meant the deafening noise of vuvuzelas filled the air well before the Cameroon team arrived, dancing their way from the bus to the changing room, and only stopped momentarily for the silence in memory of the crush victims.
Coronavirus restrictions put in place for the AFCON have limited crowds to a maximum of 60 per cent of capacity but that is raised to 80 per cent when the host nation play, and the official attendance was 36,259.
The opening goal arrived five minutes into the second half as right-back Collins Fai crossed and Toko-Ekambi headed into the far corner.
Out came the vuvuzelas, and the crowd were on their feet again on 57 minutes as the impressive Martin Hongla sent a low ball across goal for Toko-Ekambi to finish emphatically for his fifth goal at this AFCON.
Captain Vincent Aboubakar, with six, is the only player with more and together they have scored all of Cameroon’s goals.
Pending confirmation from the Confederation of African Football, Cameroon are now due to return to Olembe for their semi-final on Thursday.
In Garoua in the north of the country, Dango Ouattara scored the only goal of the game on the stroke of half-time as Burkina Faso edged Tunisia to set up a semi-final against either Senegal or Equatorial Guinea.
Ouattara, just 19, then turned villain eight minutes from time when a yellow card for elbowing Ali Maaloul was changed to a red after the referee from Botswana checked the touchline VAR monitor.
Success for Burkina Faso came just five days after the landlocked west African country was plunged into political uncertainty when President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was ousted in a military coup.
“I’m very emotional. Allow me to dedicate this win to our people who are being tested by current events,” said Burkina Faso coach Kamou Malo.
“The Burkinabe people will always stand up, just like the team. We put in the time today and we want to go all the way in this competition.”
The remaining quarter-finals will both be played on Sunday at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde, with Senegal hoping to have Sadio Mane back after he suffered suspected concussion in their last-16 win over Cape Verde.