Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 46-Roger Milla and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon (1990)

We’ve already talked about Zaire in this blog, a fine example of what can go wrong in a tournament if you’re an African team. It’s time to look at when something goes right like in 1990 for Cameroon. The French speaking nation had been to the cup before in 1982 but they went out in straight sets while Algeria made headlines beating the West Germans (who would in turn collude with Austria to knock Algeria out).

By 1990, Cameroon were back in the big one but they were seen as another African nation that would kick shins, score the odd wonder goal and be home before their postcards (‘The Scotland Method’ it is known by). Cameroon were expected to reach the level of failure due to the fact that they were drawn against defending champions Argentina, one of the great teams at 1986 in the Soviets and the Romanians featuring a bevvy of individual talent. The side was coached by the Soviet Valeri Nepomniachi who had coached some division C side back behind the iron curtain and featured two goalkeepers who played at a major level in France with the rest in the lower divisions of France or back in Cameroon.

The one player that would have scored a spot in the sticker book or on the various ‘player to watch’ previews was Espanyol keeper Thomas Nkono, one of the great African pioneers. First up for Cameroon was the defending champions Argentina to open the cup at the San Siro in Milan. Argentina still had a majority of the players from 86 with a smattering of new stars, but Cameroon didn’t care for respect to the champions and proceeded to shut down Argentina any time they had the ball with good old muscle. Three bookings were dished out in the goalless first half to the Cameroonians with Maradona receiving special attention.

In the second half there was finally a red card for the Africans with Andrea Kana-Biyik sent off for virtually trying to break Italian based striker (and future proven cocaine addict) Claudio Caniggia in half when Cannigia was through on goal and likely to score. This was where Argentina was expected to finally get on top but five minutes following the red card Cameroon got a free kick on the left side. Emmanuel Kunde centered rather poorly but the ball was deflected on a high curve towards the center where Kana-Biyik’s brother, Francois Omam-Biyik, rose above the Argentinean defender. His header was not particularly powerful but Argentina’s veteran goalkeeper from Betis, Nery Pumpido, fumbled the ball in to the goal (he would not play at Italia 90 again).

1-0 Cameroon.

Cameroon, who were sensationally ahead and one man down, defended heroically against the oncoming Argentinean attacks.  Canniggia was creating havoc, and on a spectacular run towards the end of the match he was violently brought down (again) by Benjamin Massing, who was also given a red card. The score held. Cameroon had sensationally defeated the world champions, and immediately became the darlings of the tournament, maybe because everyone hated Argentina.

In the second match they faced Romania and this was where the enigmatic yet brilliant Roger Milla popped up to tell his story of making love to the corner flag with a second half double that blew the Romanians out of the water. Even with a late goal Romania still lost 2-1. Who was Roger Milla? He was a 38 year old striker who had up until recently played in the first and second divisions in France and was a member of the 82 squad. He had in fact been talked out of retirement (he had moved to Reunion to fish) to play at this tournament…maybe because of his goal celebrations, who knows.

MSN Him meets World Cup football legend Roger Milla (© Coca-Cola)

With the team through to the next round they rested their better players and were out against an already defeated Soviet side who were a shadow of the free flowing side that were turfed out by the Belgians in Mexico…Cameroon lost 4-0. Never worry though, they were in to the second round. With the loss to the comrades it was expected that Cameroon had regressed back to their expected position of lightweight jokes and with the next match up against Colombia, a team that wasn’t your Argentina or Brazil but had got through a tough group and were dangerous.

After a goalless 90 minutes it was Milla time again when he took a pass, rode a tackle and finished brilliantly with a left footed shot. Two minutes later the slippery old bastard was at it again but thanks to an awful mess made by the flamboyant keeper Rene Higuita. Higuita played a 1-2 with one of his defenders but the return pass from the defender was not so flash so Milla stripped him of the ball and ran in to score to make it 2-0 and make sweet love to the corner flag again. A late goal did come from the Colombians but 2-1 was the full time score and Cameroon were in to unknown African waters..the quarter finals.

In the quarter finals Cameroon would come up against the English in Napoli and had the first chance before England went ahead thanks to a brilliant cross and finish from Pearce to David Platt. Cameroon were on level terms after much poking and prodding on the hour mark through a penalty after Milla was softly fouled (Kunde took the penalty). Cameroon now had the upper hand and were in front four minutes later when the English lost possession and saw a heap of passes between the Cameroon players which allowed Ekeke to run in on goal and slot it past the keeper. Cameroon were now on top and a clever back hell almost made it 3-1 and game over but with nine minutes to go a foot was shot and England had a penalty thanks to some deceitful trickery from golden boy Lineker who took the penalty and it was 2-2 in extra time.

Cameroon went on the attack against England and if not for Peter Shilton would have the game wrapped up halfway through of extra time but a rare England break (thanks to a brilliant Gascoigne) and another foul on Lineker saw another penalty for England dispatched by Lineker straight down the middle and it was 3-2. Another chance to Lineker thanks to Gazza again followed but the Africans had ran out of puff and it was all over. 3-2 in the end result but despite shooting themselves in the foot Cameroon had done more than any other African nation before.

They were hacks at times, they took advantage of the mess ups by other teams but Senegal has only ever come close to Cameroon and Ghana as far as African nations have gone at a World Cup. But for Roger Milla (who would play at USA 94 aged 42), the win over Argentina and the way they took England to the brink all serve as memorable moments with the tournament now having gone to Africa for the first time.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.

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