Does the date 27 March 1988 mean anything to you? If you are a fan of the Indomitable Lions it should. This day 21 years ago at the Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca-Morocco the Cameroon national football team won the Africa Cup of Nations for the second time. As fate would have it, it was against the same Nigeria that they won their first trophy in 1984 and their third in 2000.
The game was not the most spectacular soccer match to have graced the earth. There were a few half chances for Cameroon through Milla and Makanaky Cyrille (the revelation of the tournament) for Cameroon. Henry Nwosu scored a goal that was dissallowed for offside and late Samuel Okwaraji powered some thunderbolt shots for Nigeria. Peter Rufai (Nigeria) and Joseph-Antoine Bell (Cameroon) displayed great goalkeeping skills and kept parity (0-0).
That was the scoreline until Roger Milla sleekly dribbled his way into the Nigerian defence taking Stephen Keshi and the other Green Eagles defenders off-guard. He was brought down in the 18-yard box. Emmanuel Kundé stepped-up and drove a hard penalty shot that Peter Rufai could not stop. It is that single goal that handed the Indomitable Lions their second African crown. In the process, Cameroon set a mean statistic. They had won the competition after scoring only four goals.
Milla who had announced that he was retiring from international soccer may have been the star of the team. But its bedrock was its defense. Stephen Tataw (now deputy administrative director of the national team) had shone as a valiant right-back; Charles Ntarmack was still his rigorous self at left-back; Massing Benjamin was as rugged as Song Rigobert (if not more) at the central defence and Kunde’s intelligience and reading of the game as a libéro was next to none.
They were so good that the Pharoahs of Egypt (reputed as Cameroon’s nemesis) were unable to score one past Jacques Songo’o who stood-in for Jopseph Antoine Bell in the opening group game that Cameroon won 1-0. Late Samuel Okwaraji was the only player to have scored against Cameroon in that competition when he rifled lightening strike from 30-metres that stretched Bell. The third group game against Kenya was a scoreless draw while the semi-final against host Morocco would always be remembered for Cyrille Makanaky’s only goal for the Indomitable Lions.
My memories of 27 March 1988 include the fact that the then Prince (now King) of Morocco who chaired the final did not hand the trophy to Mbouh Mbouh Emile, captain of the Indomitable Lions at the time. It was agreed that as a tribute to Roger Milla who had announced his retirement from international soccer, the old Lion should be honoured. Who could forsee that he would return to emerge as hero in two Fifa World Cup touranaments (Italia 1990 and USA 1994)!?
As the present day Indomitable Lions sharpen their claws and prepare their teeth to hunt some Sparrow-hawks this 28 March 2009, maybe this tale should be told to the defenders so that they honour their elders who built the prestige on which they thrive today. It should alos serve as awakening for them to make their own history by remaining mean defensively and dealing the deadly blow up-front. Isn’t that the simple plan for Cameroon versus Togo?