The ‘Indomitable Lions’ have forgotten to roar

The year 1990 saw the Cameroon reach its pinnacle. After the memorable win over Argentina, legend Roger Milla, 38 then, starred for the side as it became the first ever African side to win its group at the Finals.

For long, not much was thought of African football. Natural athletes the players from the continent were, but their footballing aesthetics — or the lack of it — were often derided. But it all changed in a matter of 90 minutes, when Cameroon, in the 1990 World Cup Finals in Italy, brought the defending champion Argentina, led by Diego Maradona, down to earth.

But its performance before that (1982) and since then (1994, ‘98, 2002, 2010) has been nothing to write home about. The solitary run to the quarter-finals in 1990 remains its high point, wherein it became the first African team to do so.

Cameroon first competed in the World Cup Finals in 1982, only the fourth African country after Morocco, Zaire and Tunisia to make the grade. It finished the group stage undefeated, drawing all three games, including an impressive 1-1 against eventual champion Italy in its first ever World Cup match. But the side was eliminated as it had scored fewer goals. The year 1990 saw the ‘Indomitable Lions’ reach their pinnacle. After the memorable win over Argentina, legend Roger Milla, 38 then, starred for the side as it became the first ever African side to win its group at the Finals. The run continued and Colombia was accounted for in the second round. The tables were almost turned, this time on England, before Cameroon threw away a 2-1 lead to succumb 3-2.

Milla who became his country’s top scorer at the tournament, told France Football later: “l’ll tell you something. If we had beaten England, Africa would have exploded. Ex-plo-ded. There would have been deaths. The Good Lord knows what he does. Me, I thank him for stopping us in the quarter-finals.”

The 1994 edition in the United States was by and large forgetful. Cameroon lost 3-0 to Brazil, was thrashed 6-1 by Russia and pushed to the bottom of the group. The consolation goal against Russia was scored by Milla, who became the oldest scorer in a World Cup match at 42 years and 39 days.

In 1998, Cameroon finished bottom of its group again with two draws against Austria and Chile and a defeat to Italy.

A group stage exit was repeated in 2002 too, albeit narrowly. It beat Saudi Arabia and drew with Ireland. Only a draw was needed in the final game against Germany. But it lost 2-0.

The side missed out on Germany 2006 when it failed to qualify even after having led its qualification group for most part until the final game. It did go to South Africa in 2010, mainly on the weight of goals from star striker Samuel Eto’o.

Yet again Cameroon crashed out, losing all three games in the first stage, with Eto’o the only saving grace, scoring the only two goals his team managed.

To this day, Eto’o remains a big threat up front. His recent exploits at Chelsea add credence to this. But in recent times his appearances have been sporadic. In addition to him Cameroon does have Nicolas N'Koulou, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Aurelien Chedjou and Alex Song among others. But will it be enough for a country which having once shown the way forward for African football has stuttered thereafter?

* * * The dancing star

Roger Milla is undoubtedly Cameroon's foremost World Cup legend, whose crowning moment was the 1990 edition in Italy. Included in the team at the behest of the country's then president Paul Biya, after having retired three years previously, he top scored for Cameroon without starting a single game. Two braces each against Romania and Colombia helped his team register its best ever ?nish in the World Cup Finals - the quarter-finals.

He returned in 1994, at 42 years and 39 days, in the United States, to break his own record as the World Cup's oldest goal scorer-in the 6-1 thrashing by Russia.

Francois Omam-Biyik's greatest moment also came in the 1990 edition when his header ensured a monumental 1-0 victory at the San Siro over the Diego Maradona-led Argentine team, which was also the defending champion.

Asked later if it was indeed his greatest moment, he told the Guardian: "It was one of them. The best moment, if I can stretch the de?nition of the word, was the whole of that wonderful time we spent in Italy - the experience we gained, the atmosphere, and the money."