Cameroonian Salomon Banga set a trend of defenders scoring Wednesday as his country and Mali moved closer to the African Nations Championship (CHAN) quarter-finals, Burkina Faso remained in contention and Zimbabwe were eliminated.
In a dramatic start to the top-of-the-table Group A clash in Yaounde centre-back Banga put hosts Cameroon ahead and Mali right-back Issaka Samake levelled with only 12 minutes gone.
There were no further goals and the 1-1 draw left both Cameroon and Mali with four points and needing only one more each to reach the last eight of a tournament reserved for home-based footballers.
Burkina Faso outplayed Zimbabwe 3-1 in the second match of a double-header at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in the Cameroonian administrative capital with two more defenders netting.
Left-back Issouf Sosso put the Burkinabe ahead and substitute right-back Issiaka Ouedraogo completed the scoring midway through the second half.
There have been 15 goals in the first 10 CHAN group matches with defenders bagging six, midfielders five and forwards just four.
Partson Jaure equalised for Zimbabwe before half-time and another midfielder, Claver Kiendrebeogo, put Burkina Faso ahead a second time eight minutes into the second half.
Victory lifted the Burkinabe to three points ahead of a final group match against Cameroon on Sunday while only pride will be at stake for pointless Zimbabwe when they face Mali.
It was the first victory in eight CHAN matches for Burkina Faso since they debuted in 2014, and they must secure maximum points again, against the host nation, to reach the quarter-finals.
A lively clash between Cameroon and Mali would have produced more than two goals but for excellent goalkeeping from Haschou Kerrido and Mali captain Djigui Diarra.
Banga headed Cameroon in front on six minutes with his second goal of the tournament and Samake scored direct from a free-kick.
Sosso scored the best goal in the other match, slamming a weak clearance through a crowd of players and into the net on 14 minutes.
The 16-team Nations Championship kicked off four days ago after being postponed twice last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When original hosts Ethiopia fell behind with preparations, the tournament was moved to Cameroon, where the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) will be staged next January and February on dates to be announced.