Cameroon at Italia '90: The best African participation in a World Cup
Cameroon's national team made the best African participation in a World Cup
Historically, African national teams have always stood out for having fast, fit players. However, even though it is becoming more and more common to see African players in Europe's leagues, African teams still want a lot to be desired at the World Cups. In the entire history of that tournament, an African team has never managed to qualify for the semifinals. Senegal, currently the best African team, will seek to be among the top 4 teams in the world. But until then, everyone agrees that the 1990 Cameroon National Team was the best African performance in the World Cup.
Although Cameroon had a few players playing in Europe (mainly France), most of their players were from the Cameroon League. In addition, the great star of the team, Roger Milla was 38 years old and played for JS Saint-Pierroise, a team that competed in the French Overseas League. Nobody expected that they would be one of the surprises of the 1990 World Cup.
In the draw, Cameroon had to play in group B along with Argentina (the last champion), Romania, and the USSR. Although the Argentine National Team was not the same team as it was 4 years ago, nobody expected what would happen in that match. The Cameroon National Team surprised the world by beating Diego Maradona's Argentina 1-0 (goal by Omam-Biyik). That inaugural meeting was a hard blow for the Argentine National Team. That day, Argentine coach Carlos Bilardo said: "If we don't qualify, we won't return to Argentina. I'll give the pilot a parachute and crash the plane later". Although it was a very extreme phrase, it explained the shock that Argentina experienced by losing that match.
6 days later, the team's star striker, Roger Milla had a memorable performance and scored 2 goals to beat Romania 2-1. With this result, Cameroon secured their qualification for the Round of 16 for the first time in their history. 4 days later, Cameroon reserved some of their players to face the USSR in the last game. Incredibly, they lost 4-0. But the defeat was not important because the Cameroonian team qualified first in the group.
The next match was probably Roger Milla's best match. Due to the player's age and accumulated fatigue, the star entered in the 54th minute with the match tied 0-0 against Colombia. After equalizing in the 90 minutes, both teams played extra time. In the 105th minute, the forward outpaced 2 Colombian defenders and with a powerful shot beat René Higuita, the Colombian goalkeeper. Just 2 minutes later, he took advantage of a serious error by Higuita, who tried to dribble him but lost the ball. Roger Milla only had to push the ball with the goal completely free. Colombia's goal minutes later was useless, as Cameroon qualified for the Quarterfinals. That match was also historic as Roger Milla celebrated both goals by dancing.
In the quarterfinals, the Cameroon National Team faced England, a team that was a candidate for the title. The match began with a victory for the English with a goal by David Platt. But in the second half and with Roger Milla on the field, the game changed. First, Kundé would score a penalty in the 61st minute after a foul on Milla. 4 minutes later, Roger Milla assisted Ekéké, who scored the second goal. Nobody could believe that England was losing. Unfortunately, the English equalized 7 minutes before the end with a Lineker penalty goal. In extra time, Lineker converted again from a penalty and sentenced the elimination of Cameroon.
Gianluigi "Gigi" Buffon was very sad about Cameroon's elimination, he even cried. Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas N'Kono, a Cameroonian legend and one of Espanyol's best players, was the Italian goalkeeper's childhood idol. He couldn't see his idol get eliminated and that was the first time Buffon cried over football.
Despite losing, the Cameroon players were received as heroes in their country. The president (who is still president today) even promised each player a house. After 30 years of waiting, the president kept that promise.