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In this series of Flashbacks we present teams, players and happenings that people remember from the history of the World Cup. This month we present...

Roger Milla with the ball against Argentina in the opening match. Emile M'Bouh is in the background.

Francoise Omam-Biyick leaps high to score the winning goal against Argentina with a great header.

Cameroon players celebrate one of Milla's two goals against Romania. Milla's dance by the cornerflag after every goal became a big favourite among the fans.

Roger Milla steals the ball from goalkeeper Higuita who desperately tries to tackle him, but too late. The ball is already on its way in, and Colombia are on their way out.

Cyrille Makanaky, Cameroon's elegant midfielder here in action against England. Stuart Pearce is left and Chris Waddle right.

Previous editions of this column





By Jan Alsos

    The definate break-through for African soccer on the world stage came in 1990. The indomitable lions from Cameroon were one of very few teams who entertained the soccer TV audience in a rather dull World Cup held in Italy that summer. African soccer had prior to 1990 showed they were capable of competing with the big boys only in single matches causing upsets especially in 1982 with Algeria beating West Germany and Cameroon holding the eventual champions Italy to a draw. Four years later in Mexico, Morocco became the first African country to reach the second round where they lost narrowly 1-0 to West Germany.

    Nobody really fancied Cameroon to go through from the first round in Italy 1990 despite being the reigning African champions and the fact that also third placed teams in the group had a chance to progress. They were in a difficult group with defending champions Argentina, the 1988 European Championship runners-up Soviet Union and powerful Romania who had eliminated the surprising team from 1986, Denmark, in the qualifying rounds. Cameroon had several survivors from their 1982 squad including goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono, central defender Emmanuel Kunde and a certain 38-year-old, Mr. Roger Milla, who had come out of retirement to act as a back-up striker. The team was coached by Valeri Nepomniachi from Russia whose contact with the players had to be transferred via an interpreter.

    Argentina with Maradona were the opponents at the San Siro stadium in Milan on the opening day of the tournament. Cameroon brought with them a proud record as being the only team in World Cup history never to lose a match having drawn all their three games in their only other finals appearance in 1982. The run was extended further when Francoise Omam-Biyick met a high cross to head home past a fumbling Pumpido in the Argentina goal in the 66th minute. Cameroon had two players sent off, but fought bravely to prevent the champions from scoring and succeeded with that. The 1-0 scoreline sent shockwaves around the soccer world, but the Lions of Cameroon would prove in the matches that followed that this win was no fluke.

    They came up against Romania in their second match who were full of confidence after beating the Soviet Union in their first match. Roger Milla changed the course of this game when he came on in the second half to score two brilliant goals late on as Cameroon ran out 2-1 winners. The win meant that Cameroon, as the first team in the tournament, had qualified for the second round even before the match against the Soviet Union and the Lions now became the darlings for neutral soccerfans all over the world. The World Cup had so far been an anti-climax for the watching millions world wide, but Cameroon spiced up the tournament with their skillful and unpredictable way of playing.

    Cameroon prepared themselves for a second round match with Colombia having lost 4-0 to the Soviet Union in that last match which meant nothing to them. Perhaps coach Nepomniachi ordered the players to take it easy against his native country so they could qualify as well? Anyway, the Soviets beat a full strength Cameroon solidly, but still failed to qualify. Naples was the venue for the groupwinner’s next match. Clearly the organizers had expected Argentina to be here and play every round until the final. Instead Cameroon could now settle down in Maradona’s adopted hometown knowing that no more travelling would be needed unless they reached the final in Rome.

    The Colombia match was much like the one against Romania. It needed a 38-year-old substitute to come alight. Roger Milla scored twice within three minutes in the second period of extratime to send Cameroon, as the first African country ever, to the quarterfinals. Milla beat two defenders before firing home a deadly left foot shot from an acute angle for the first goal, and the second came after stealing the ball from goalkeeper Higuita who was way outside his own penalty area allowing Milla to send the ball into the unguarded net. Redin reduced the lead towards the end, but Cameroon controlled the game to book a place in the quarterfinal with England. The only drawback was the number of yellow cards referee Tullio Lanese spread around in this fair and non-violent match. Four first team players were suspended for the biggest game in the history of African soccer.

    The Cameroon v England match turned out to be the most entertaining of this World Cup. The fans at the stadium and around the world were solidly for the underdogs Cameroon. Omam-Biyick wasted an early chance to score minutes before David Platt put England 1-0 up after 26 minutes. England had all sorts of problems coping with the inventiveness and quick movements by the Africans who searched for an equalizer.

    A buzz of expectations could be heard from the crowd as Roger Milla warmed up on the sideline. In the second half he was once again going to play an important part in Cameroon’s attacking game. He was brought down accidently inside the penalty area by Paul Gascoigne on the hour which gave referee Mendez no choice. Penalty. Emmanuel Kunde, the man who scored the winning goal in the final of the African nations cup two years earlier, converted the penalty with ease past Shilton. Four minutes later the amazing Milla was involved in a quick one-two with other substitute Ekeke, who strode through the defence to chip the ball neatly past the advancing Shilton.

    England were now in disarray and were being made to look second-rate at times, but they kept pushing forward and gradually crept back into the game. Cameroon’s inexperience in games like this was to cost them dearly. Instead of sitting back at 2-1 with ten men behind the ball, they still pushed players forward in search for a third goal. Gary Lineker was fouled twice inside the box, first in normal time then in extra time, and converted both penalties to send Cameroon home and England to the semifinals.

    The Cameroon team, wearing England shirts, took a lap of honour saluting the crowd for all the support they had received. Cameroon’s quarterfinal place made FIFA expand the number of African teams from two to three for the tournament in 1994. The 1990 World Cup is widely regarded as one of the least entertaining tournaments ever. West Germany won the World Cup and deservedly so because they were the best team. Italy had their moments, but impressed much more in defence than in attack. Argentina won no friends and Brazil collapsed. The 1990 World Cup is remembered most of all for the emergence of African soccer and for the Indomitable Lions who won the hearts of fans all over the world with their appealing and artistic way of playing soccer.



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