Vincent Aboubakar from Cameroon, who was a very good goalkeeper as a child and who grew up making fun of goalkeepers, has just scored the ball. Shock is about to burst into the face of Vanja, the tonsured Serbian goalkeeper with the magnificent beard. Between them, Nemanja Maksimovic was sprawled on the floor on his back, about to turn his face back to see Aboubakar’s trick shot.
It’s a lovely shot by Reuters’ Marko Djurica, which perfectly captures the artist and the men he had for breakfast. With that frame of action, all three must also have felt that they knew the outcome – that it would be offside even if the unthinkable happened. Aboubakar does not even celebrate the most scandalous goal of the World Cup. Maksimovic then stood up and nonchalantly acknowledged the linesman’s flag. So would Vanja. But the VAR would catch what the naked eye couldn’t.
Seconds ago, when Aboubakar, who likes to read metaphysics and philosophy, started his run from the top of the Serbian half, it had looked clearly offside. The world feed commentator would even articulate the viewers’ inner thoughts: clearly offside. But Nikola Milenkovic, raised by a single mother, a teacher, would make a schoolboy mistake by delaying a fraction of a second longer to allow Aboubakar to escape the offside trap. Not that Aboubakar knew that at the time.
Still, the three professionals would do what professionals do. Aboubakar would be committed to the run-up and the finish. A modern box-to-box capable midfielder, Maksimovic would be committed to chasing him down. Vanja, whose brother Serjej was leading the Cameroon half, would also be committed to running forward to try and stop Aboubakar. Three men rush to a beautiful football moment.
At what point did Aboubakar decide it was time to unfold the scoop? Hearing Maksimovic’s frantic approach at the last second, he hit the ball back, and just like a scene from the 1980s German TV series, Dieter Hallervoden’s “Didi’s Comedy Show,” Maksimovic would run across the green grass to nowhere to slide. He had thrown down the slide as a last-ditch effort to tackle Aboubakar, but cut through the air and landed flat on his back, staring at the sky of Doha.
Son of a deaconess for the Evangelical Missionary Society of Cameroon, who passed away in 2020, Aboubakar has a fascination with the subconscious and spirituality. “The most important thing for a person should be his spiritual upliftment. The more you are spiritually elevated, the easier it is for you to understand certain things,” he once told New Frame. “There are books that, when you read them, you are more enlightened. One of my favorite books is The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy.” Something clicked in his subconscious as he came face to face with the sprawling defender and the tonsured Vanja.
Vanja must know all about Aboubakar’s indifference to fool goalkeepers. So he bends his knees, extends his arms, extends into a much larger shield. He’s not coming down yet.
Perhaps it was at this point that Aboubakar decided it was time for the surprise scoop. Perhaps it was also the premonition that it would be offside anyway that made him go for the flamboyant finish. Maybe not. Either way, as his past reveals, he’s more than capable of producing such flourishes.
Taste this from the 2021 AFCON Cup. He has just shaken off a defender and is in front of the goalkeeper who has all but shielded the right post. Aboubakar makes a neat transition with his right hand, tipping the keeper over to his left, before calmly tapping the ball past the left post through the gap just created. All this at the goal mouth, with the defender almost about to grab him and seemingly no time for creativity. A wild kick would have been understandable to try and forcefully beat the goalkeeper; but he went for the subtlety.
Or from 2013 for FC Lorient vs Valenciennes FC. The start is quite similar to the Doha goal against Serbia. He is near the half line when he dodges the offside trap and runs forward. When he reaches the penalty area, with the defender on his heels and the keeper cautiously approaching him, he suddenly turns left. The defender can’t keep up with this sudden change of plan and finds it takes much longer to hit the breaks. Meanwhile, the keeper jumps to the right, expecting Aboubaker to shoot.
But Aboubaker makes another Cruijff-like turn and goes right again. The keeper, now lying on the ground, jumps to the left. The defender criss-crosses trying to get in the way of the ball and the unoccupied goal. Too late. Aboubakar would shoot the wind and score the ball.
So he could have done all that in Doha on Tuesday. Instead, he chose a new trick. A wonderfully outrageous chip scoop that flings the ball way above Vanja and bounces into the net like ping pong. A target for all ages. Destined for immortality on YouTube.