The Cameroonian captain and forward finally earned his stripes on the biggest stage.
Vincent Aboubakar’s winner against Brazil on Friday seemed like a fulfillment of the Saudi Arabia-based striker’s potential at the perfect time.
He paid the price for ripping his shirt off in celebration by collecting a second yellow card and thus a red one, but nothing could dampen Aboubakar’s brilliant run at the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
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“I was overjoyed with emotion because it’s always been my dream,” the 30-year-old said. “It’s a huge honour to score against Brazil. It’s unforgettable and will stay with me forever.”
His excitement was understandable. Despite a group stage exit, Cameroon had become the first team to beat the five-time champions in the World Cup group stage since Norway at the 1998 edition in France — ending an unbeaten run of 17 group matches.
The win was also the first time an African nation would beat five-time champions Brazil at a World Cup.
On Monday, Aboubakar had come off the bench to score one goal and set up another as the Indomitable Lions rescued a vital point in a 3-3 draw with Serbia that ended a run of eight successive World Cup losses for the Central Africans.
The Al-Nassr man then powered a header past Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson in second-half stoppage time to give Cameroon their first win at the tournament since beating Saudi Arabia in 2002.
From dusty Garoua to elite level
Born in the dusty northern cotton town of Garoua, 900km (560 miles) from the capital, Yaounde, Aboubakar started his professional career with local side Coton Sport.
He caught the eye as an 18-year-old when he was named the only home-based player in the Cameroon squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Aboubakar made a substitute appearance in the final group game against Denmark, but it was his impressive form on the domestic scene that earned him a move to French club Valenciennes after the global tournament.
At the 2014 summer event, he made two starts but was unable to find the net for a team that was in disarray, beset by off-field problems and indiscipline on the pitch.
Three fairly quiet seasons somewhat stalled his career before his switch to rivals Lorient in July 2013, where he delivered 17 goals in 37 matches.
Despite attracting interests from the English Premier League, it was Portuguese giants Porto who snapped up the Cameroonian in August 2014 following his solitary campaign at Lorient.
Aboubakar had a mixed six-year spell at Porto, scoring 58 goals and winning two league titles in a stint blighted by injury, as well as finding success on loan at Turkish side Besiktas in between.
He returned to Besiktas after terminating his contract with Porto in 2020, landing another domestic trophy before switching to Al-Nassr in July 2021.
From one legend to another
For Aboubakar, his performance in Qatar completed a scoring cycle that started on a high at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) on home soil.
He starred in the final of the 2017 AFCON, netting Cameroon’s second goal to seal a 2-1 win over Egypt and a fifth continental title for the Indomitable Lions.
In this year’s tournament, he scored eight goals, the best tally since 1998 when Benni McCarthy (South Africa) and Hossam Hassan (Egypt) got seven apiece. Only Ndaye Mulamba, who notched 9 goals in 1974 for the country then known as Zaire, today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, has more.
Following Aboubakar’s feat, Cameroon legend and 1990 World Cup star Roger Milla quickly tipped him to become one of Africa’s greatest-ever players.
“Aboubakar could be one of the greatest African footballers. He has all the attributes to be great and consistent,” Milla said in February. “Scoring goals and winning games for Cameroon is always possible when you have a healthy Aboubakar playing.”
Utilising his imposing frame, speed, strength, ability on the ball and clinical finishing to great effect, he stole the headlines on and off the pitch at the delayed AFCON this year.
He faced a barrage of criticism in the build-up to the semi-final against Egypt by taking a swipe at Mohamed Salah, claiming the Liverpool player is not on the same level as footballers such as Kylian Mbappe, of Paris Saint-Germain.
His comments infuriated many in North Africa and England.
Barely two weeks before the start of the tournament in Qatar, Aboubakar had another go at the Egyptian again, claiming the only difference between him and Salah is that the Liverpool player has the chance to “play in a big club”.
He told 90FootballFr: “I’m not impressed by him. I can do what he does. I just don’t have the opportunity to play in a big club.”
“I understand people’s attitudes, he’s one of the best goalscorers in the Premier League. It makes sense that when you go on about a player like that, people will talk.”
“But I did say that it was my opinion, my point of view. I don’t give a toss if people don’t like it.”
His comments may not have won him many admirers in November, but Aboubakar is certainly the African footballer of the moment on social media after helping Cameroon stun Brazil in Lusail. Some may be wishing that he has the chance to play at a big club soon, for more heroics.