Host Cameroon into semis, heightened security at African Cup




Cameroon's players celebrate a goal during the African Cup of Nations 2022 quarter-final soccer match between Gambia and Cameroon at the Japoma Stadium in Douala, Cameroon, Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

DOUALA, Cameroon (AP) — Cameroon marched on at the African Cup of Nations on Saturday with a brace by striker Karl Toko Ekambi sending the tournament host into the semifinals with a 2-0 win over Gambia.

Toko Ekambi scored his goals in the space of seven minutes in the second half at the Japoma Stadium in Douala, where security was increased following the crush that left eight fans dead at Cameroon’s last game.

That incident at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde on Monday is the subject of an investigation by soccer officials, which could yet see the venue removed as host of the African Cup final on Feb. 6.

Cameroon is still on course to make that final — wherever it is held — after dominating against Gambia, which was playing in its first African Cup and caused a major surprise to make it to the quarterfinals.

Toko Ekambi headed in from a cross in the 50th minute and side-footed into the roof of the net from another cross in the 57th to see the Indomitable Lions into the last four after the tournament’s first quarterfinal. The French-born Toko Ekambi now has five goals at the tournament, one behind Cameroon captain Vincent Aboubakar.

Cameroon will play the winner of the Egypt vs. Morocco quarterfinal, which is on Sunday.

Cameroon authorities said they had placed 250 extra police officers at the Japoma Stadium for Cameroon’s quarterfinal, while yellow-vested security officials formed a line between the crowd and the field during the game.

The added security was also because of an invasion of fans at a game at the Japoma Stadium earlier in the tournament between Algeria and Ivory Coast.

The Cameroon government has blamed the stampede at the last-16 game between Cameroon and Comoros on an influx of ticketless fans who forced their way into the stadium to avoid security checks and COVID-19 screening. Fans must show negative coronavirus tests and be vaccinated to attend African Cup games.

But witnesses have said that security failures were partly to blame for the tragedy, where 38 people were also injured, seven of them seriously.

Either way, the stampede realized pre-tournament fears over Cameroon’s preparations, and particularly the readiness of its stadiums. The Central African nation was meant to host the African soccer championship in 2019 but was stripped of that year’s version because its stadiums were too far behind schedule.

The Confederation of African Football insisted Cameroon was ready to host this time but now has demanded a report from local organizers on the causes of the stadium crush and who was responsible. CAF moved the Egypt-Morocco quarterfinal to another stadium in Yaounde and could also strip Olembe Stadium of a semifinal and the final, depending on the findings of the investigation.

Burkina Faso played Tunisia in Saturday’s second quarterfinal, while Senegal will face Equatorial Guinea on Sunday.

Senegal said Liverpool forward Sadio Mané will be available for that game after recovering from a blow to the head during the victory over Cape Verde in the last 16 on Tuesday.

Mané had been taken to the hospital after the game for tests, while Senegal was fiercely criticized for allowing him to play on for at least 15 minutes after a horrible clash of heads with Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha.

Mané ended up scoring Senegal’s first goal before slumping to the ground holding his head and eventually being substituted.

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