Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar who as a kid was a very good goalkeeper and who grew up to make goalies look like fools, has just scooped the ball. The shock is about to erupt in the face of Vanja, the tonsured-head and magnificently bearded Serbian goalkeeper. Between them, Nemanja Maksimovic, was sprawled on the ground on his back, about to twist his face behind to see Aboubakar’s trick shot.
It’s a lovely photo from Reuters’ Marko Djurica perfectly capturing the artist and the men he had for breakfast. At that frame of action, all three also must have felt they knew the outcome – that it would be an offside even if the unthinkable happened. Aboubakar doesn’t even celebrate the most outrageous goal of the world cup. Maksimovic would get up and nonchalantly acknowledge the raised flag of the linesman. So would Vanja. But the VAR would catch what the naked eye couldn’t.
A few seconds ago, when Aboubakar, who loves reading metaphysics and philosophy, began his run from the top of the Serbian half, it had seemed like a clear offside. The commentator on world feed would even voice the viewers’ inner thoughts: Clear offside. But Nikola Milenkovic, raised by a single mother, a teacher, would do a schoolboyish error of dawdling for a fraction of a second longer to allow Aboubakar to escape the off-side trap. Not that Aboubakar knew it then.
Still, the three professionals would do what professionals do. Aboubakar would commit himself to the run and the finish. Maksimovic, a modern box-to-box capable midfielder, would commit to chasing him down. Vanja, whose brother Serjej was up ahead in Cameroon’s half, would also commit himself to rush ahead to try to stop Aboubakar. Three men rushing towards a beautiful football moment.
At what point did Aboubakar decide it was time to unfurl the scoop? Hearing the frenetic approach of Maksimovic at the last instant, he back heels the ball, and much like a scene from the 80’s German Tv series, Dieter Hallervoden’s ‘Didi’s comedy show’, Maksimovic would go sliding on the green grass to nowhere. He had thrown in the slide as a last-gasp effort to tackle Aboubakar, but sliced through thin air, ending up flat on his back staring at the Doha sky.
Son of a deaconess for the Evangelical Missionary Society of Cameroon, who died in 2020, Aboubakar has a fascination for the subconscious and spirituality. “The most important thing for a person should be his spiritual elevation. The more spiritually elevated you are, the easier it is for you to comprehend certain things,” he once told New Frame. “There are books which, when you read them, you’re more enlightened. One of my favorite books is The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy.” Something clicked in his subconscious as he was faced with the sprawled out defender and the tonsured Vanja.
Vanja must know all about Aboubakar’s insouciance to fool goalies. So, he bends his knees, extends his arms, stretches himself into a far bigger shield. He doesn’t get to the ground, yet.
Perhaps, it was this instant that Aboubakar decided it was time for the scoop of surprise. Perhaps, it was also the foreboding that it was going to be offside anyway that made him go for the flamboyant finish. Maybe not. As his past reveals he is more than capable of producing such flourishes regardless.
Sample this from the 2021 AFCON cup. He has just about shrugged off a defender and finds himself in front of the goalkeeper who has all but shielded the right post. Aboubakar does a neat step-over with his right, toppling the goalie to his left, before calmly tapping the ball past the left post through the gap he had just created. All this, at the goal mouth, with the defender almost about to grapple him, and seemingly no time for creativity. A wild kick would have been understandable to try to beat the goalkeeper with force; but he went for the subtlety.
Or from 2013 for FC Lorient vs Valenciennes FC. The start is pretty similar to the Doha goal against Serbia. He is near the half-line when he evades the off-side trap and dashes ahead. When he reaches the penalty box, with the defender on his heels, and the goalie approaching him warily, he suddenly turns to his left. The defender is unable to keep up with this sudden change of plan and finds himself taking that much longer to press the breaks. Meanwhile, the goalie lunges to his right, expecting Aboubaker to shoot.
But Aboubaker makes another Cruyff-ish turn and gets back to his right. The goalie, on the ground now, lunges to his left. The defender criss-crosses around to try to get in the way of the ball and the untenanted goal. Too late. Aboubakar would shoot the breeze and net the ball.
So, he could have done any of that on Tuesday at Doha. Instead, he chose a new trick. A delightfully outrageous chip-scoop that loops the ball way above Vanja and it bounces like a ping-pong into the net. A goal for the ages. Destined for YouTube immortality.