1990: The emergence of Cameroon

Cameroon surprised defending champion Argentina in the first match of Italia ’90, kicking off a wonderful run to the last eight stage of the World Cup.

On cloud nine: West German defender Andreas Brehme (left) celebrates in front of forward Juergen Klinsmann after scoring the only goal of the final, off a penalty, against Argentina in Rome, on July 8, 1990. West Germany earned its third World title, after 1954 and 1974, beating the defending champion.   -  AFP

The Indomitable Lions, Cameroon, surprised defending champion Argentina in the first match of Italia ’90, kicking off a wonderful run to the last eight stage of the World Cup, the first by any African nation.

Cameroon’s previous appearance in 1982 had been a miserable affair, the side losing every single game. Italia ’90 didn’t promise anything better. Stuck with Argentina, the talented Soviet Union and Romania, Cameroon was not expected to move past the group phase. In the tournament opener at San Siro the Africans, though, proceeded to shut down Argentina with some heavy tackling. Paying the price for its high-handedness, the African side was a man down early in the second half and the defending champion seemed sure to take advantage of it.

But five minutes following the send off, it was Cameroon which got a free kick on the left side of the field and Emmanuel Kunde’s poor centre was deflected hopefully to Omam Biyik. Rising above the Argentinean defence, he headed past veteran goalkeeper Nery Pumpido and the Lions at last had their first World Cup win.

Host: Italy

Teams: 24

Matches: 52

Goals: 115

Attendance: 25,16,215

Winner: West Germany

Golden Boot: Salvatore Schillaci (ITA) — 6 goals

Best Goalkeeper: Luis Gabelo Conejo (Costa Rica) & Sergio Goycochea (ARG)

Best Player: Salvatore Schillaci (ITA)

In its second game, it was 38-year-old Roger Milla, who came to the rescue, his second half double forcing Romania to throw in the towel. A 0-4 loss to Soviets in the last group game did little to affect its campaign and Colombia waited as the next opponent. After a goalless 90 minutes, it was Milla again. He took a pass in the midfield, rode past a tackle before finishing brilliantly with a left-footed volley. Another goal was added two minutes later, Milla this time taking advantage after a gaffe from the flamboyant Rene Higuita. A late goal from the Colombians didn’t spoil its party and Cameroon reached the World Cup quarterfinals, making history. The fairytale was stopped in its tracks there, a heartbreaking 2-3 loss to England following extra-time.

Argentina, however, recovered from the early slump and moved on to the knock-out phase as one of the two best third-placed teams from the six competing groups. An unknown hero came to the forefront, second choice ’keeper Sergio Goycochea (filling in after Pumpido fractured his leg in the second game against the Soviets) heroically throttling every sortie to his goal with superhuman flexibility.

Against Brazil in the round of 16, he brought out a series of saves extraordinaire to help in the 1-0 win, with Claudio Caniggia heading a goal in with just 10 minutes remaining on the clock. In its feisty quarterfinal versus Yugoslavia, where both teams were reduced to 10 men within the first 30 minutes, Goycochea again was the difference after the match was goalless in regulation time and in the 30 extra minutes after it.

With skipper Maradona bundling his penalty and Pedro Troglio following suit, Goycochea came up with a miracle, stopping the Yugoslavs’ final two spot-kicks.

Maradona’s home-ground, Naples, played host to the semifinal against Italy and with a chunk of locals favouring their adopted son over the host nation, it was Goycochea’s time all over again. Roberto Donadoni and Aldo Serena saw their shots parried, Argentina winning 5-4 (penalty shootout 4-3).

However. the final between West Germany and Argentina was of low quality. The only goal of the contest arrived in the 85th minute when West Germany was awarded a penalty. Andreas Brehme converted the spot kick to settle the contest.

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