It was 8 June 1990 and the opening game of the FIFA World Cup in Italy. Cameroon was up against reigning world champions Argentina. At the 65th minute of play, Francois Omam Biyick rose high (his boots reaching and Argentine defenders shoulder) and met the ball from a deflected Emmanuel Kunde free-kick. The header was stunning. The Argentine goalkeeper, Pompidou, fumbled and the ball wriggled into the net.
It was Cameroon 1 – Argentina 0. That was the final scoreline.
The Indomitable Lions became the first sub-Saharan African team to win a match at the FIFA World Cup. Being the tournament opener and against an Argentina side that included Diego Maradona, the world’s best footballer at the time, this caught the international media spotlight.
Football had put Cameroon on the world map.
A goal stipped in drama
The Lions went on to play the quarter-finals of the competition but that win at the Guissepe Meazza (San Siro) stadium in Milan remains the fondest of footballing triumphs in the hearts of most Cameroonian soccer fans.
The drama that preceded the goal may have contributed to that mystique. It came barely four minutes after Omam’s brother, Kana Biyick, was sent-off with a straight red card by French referee Michel Vautrot. Kana was an athletic midfielder who rigourously partook in the team’s defensive balance . The coaches had to substitute the more offensive Louis Paul M’fede for a defence-minded Thomas Libih. The free-kick that led to the goal would have been taken by Louis Paul M’fede, if the latter had not been replaced only seconds before Kundé took the shot.
It was 19 years ago, but it still appears as if it was yesterday.
Time to move on
Understandably, nostalgia is part of life. However, it is time to make new conquests and raise the bar even higher. Cameroon may have become a recognizable name in world football as a result of the 1990 performance but the Lions have been bundled out of the first round of every FIFA World Cup since then (1994, 1998, and 2002).
What is more, Senegal reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup in 2002 (also beating a reigning champion France); Nigeria has gone on to play 2 eighth finals (1994 and 1998); whereas Cameroon didn’t even make it to the 2006 edition in Germany.
Recent prides of Indomitable Lions have made other triumphs : 2 Africa Cup of Nations (2000 and 2002), an Olympic gold medal (Sydney 2000), a final of the FIFA Confederations Cup (2003). Curiously, that sweetness of the 8 June 1990 victory against Argentina and the subsequent run in that World Cup seem to outshine these recent successes in the hearts of football lovers.
That should be a pointer to the current crop of players, that a successful showing at a FIFA World Cup remains the biggest stage for any nation and its players regardless of the numerous regional tournaments or club competitions they may win. In such a context, qualifying for the next World Cup becomes almost an imperative and crossing the first round appears as the measuring rod. That is, if these players want to cast their names in gold in Cameroon football history.
What separates lions from cubs?
Years have come and gone but these names remain eternal: Thomas N’kono, Stephen Tataw, Victor Ndip Akem, Benjamin Massing, Bertin Ebwele, Emmanuel Kunde, Emile Mbouh, André Kana Biyick, Louis Paul M’fede, Cyrille Makanaky, Francois Omam Biyick, Thomas Libih, Roger Milla. They were the men who stood-up to Maradona’s Argentina.
Are the current Lions men enough to upstage these heroes from the minds of Cameroonians?
Luckily, they have three men who were present in Milan on 8 June 1990 as part of the current coaching and administrative staff. The interim head coach,Thomas N’kono, was the goalkeeper then. Interim assistant coach, Kaham Michel, was part of the group of 4 coaches at the time (the others were Valeri Nepomiachi, Jean Manga Ougene and Jules Nyongha). The current deputy administrative director of the national team, Stephen Tataw, was the captain of the Indomitable Lions.
Hopefully, their stories will inspire today’s generation to feats of brilliance that will put Cameroon on the world soccer map again.