The Cameroon team shook the world on the first day of the event; beating Argentina 1-0 on a bright sunny day at San Siro. Maradona looked busy initially creating little gaps in the opposition defense, but the rest of the team looked very ordinary and very static. The Africans mainly relied on the counter attacks,. After a barren 1st half, Omam Biyik, the Cameroon striker scored the only goal of the match with a header in the 67th minute; helped by a poor goalkeeping error by Pompido. The Africans held on to the lead, despite the fact that they finished the match with only 9 men. As for Milla, he came on as a sub to play in the last 10 minutes of the match; but he didn’t give us any clue about the things to come.
Cameroon and their World Cup Journey in the 1990 Football World Cup
Cameroon’s opponent in the round of 16 was Colombia. The Colombians came in to this event with a reputation of being a free flowing, high scoring football team; but in Italy, they failed to show their best. The match at Naples, had a slow start; after the regulation 90 minutes it was 0-0; even the entrance of Milla in the 2nd half didn’t seem to have any effect. It was in the extra time, that the real drama started.
Mila scored twice in quick succession; the 2nd goal was especially memorable. Higuita, the Colombian goalkeeper was well known for his unorthodox movements; one of his favorite move was to dribble past opposition strikers. Here during the extra time, he tried this against Milla, some 35 yards from the goal. Milla, the old pro wasn’t foxed; he timed his tackle to perfection to snatch the ball.
As he headed towards the goal, Higuita in a desperate bid chased him, he even tried to foul the veteran Milla; but to no avail. Milla simply tucked the ball in to the net to score his 4th goal in the event. Like Romania earlier, Colombia got a late consolation goal; but Cameroon won 2-1 to reach the QFs.
This was new territory, not only for Cameroon, but also for Africa
No African team had previously reached the last 8 in a WC; here Cameroon was up against England. Cameroon had their chances in the 1st half; but failed to convert those; and England scored via Platt from a breakaway move to take the lead. But, yet again the entrance of Milla around the hour mark changed the course of the game.
Here, he didn’t score, but he drew a foul inside the opposition box to earn a penalty, calmly converted by Kunde. Minutes later, a neat pass from him completely split the England defense, the English fans watched in agony as Ebeke finished the brilliant move by tucking the ball in to the net. With around 20 minutes left, Cameroon was close to the SF. But at this stage, the one weakness in their football appeared to hurt them; the lack of discipline in their defense.
Cameroon and their very first day at World Cup
It was evident from the very first day of the WC, that under the influence of their Soviet coach, the Cameroon team was playing mainly European style of football. Their passing was neat, and there was good pace in the side. Forwards like Milla and Omam Biyik constantly threatened the opposition goal. The only problem was their defense, there were just too many rash tackles, to many silly fouls.
In the 1st match, Andrea Kana Biyik (the brother of Omam) and Massing both were shown the red cards. On that day, the team got away with it; but they were not so lucky against England. Here, the defenders committed two needless fouls inside their own box to concede two penalties, one in regulation time, the other in extra time. England striker Gary Lineker converted both, to take England to the SF, theAfricans went home.
So, Milla and company returned home with their heads high; they were the first African team to reach the QFs; and although Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) have equaled the feat, they have failed to improve it. More importantly, from the perspective of the viewers of the 1990 WC, they were the only bright light. In a WC, Dominated by the defense, controlled by the workmanlike midfielders rather than by the playmakers, they played free flowing passing football, providing us with great entertainment.
The Cameroon team and Milla (then 42 years ‘young’) was again there in USA in 4 years time. But, this time the Africans failed to impress; a 2-2 draw against Sweden was followed by a 3-0 defeat against eventual champions Brazil and a 6-1 thrashing against Russia. But, still Milla made his mark, he scored against Russia, to become the oldest player to score a goal in WC football (in fact, he broke his own record set in 1990). The record still remains, and is unlikely to be broken by anyone.