Monday, March 15, 2010

Greatest World Cup Matches: Cameroon-Argentina (1990)

African teams had slowly been rising since 1978 when Tunisia had been the first African team to win a match. In 1982 Algeria had been the first to defeat a European side, West Germany, while Cameroon had been eliminated without losing a single match, and in 1986 Morocco had been the first African group winners. However, when Argentina and Cameroon were to play the opening match of the 1990 World Cup at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium in Milan, nobody really thought that the Africans had a chance against the Argentinean defending world champions.
Argentina’s team was a combination of veterans from the 1986 team, and some new players, but the one overshadowing them all was Diego Maradona, who as a Napoli player felt at home in Italy.
Cameroon’s team, on the other hand, was a combination of players from the domestic league and low-key French clubs, with the exception of the goalkeeper Thomas Nkono from RCD Espanyol, arguably one of the best African goalkeepers of all time.
Argentina did not play a bad match, but were perhaps surprised by the tactics of the Camerooneans who, with strong support for being the underdogs, played very well but with very poor sportsmanship. Within the first half hour the Camerooneans had received three yellow cards and made a number of bad fouls, in particular targeting Maradona. The Argentineans, although no aliens to playing dirty, seemed unable to counter the harsh play of the Africans.
Although the score was 0-0 at half-time, Argentina could have been ahead, and things seemed to be going the right way when in the 61st minute, the Cameroonean defender André Kana-Biyik was shown a direct red card for taking down the dangerous Atalanta striker Claudio Canniggia on a free run towards the Cameroonean goal. However, only five minutes later Cameroon got a free kick on the left side. Emmanuel Kunde centered rather poorly, but the ball was deflected on a high curve towards the center where Kana-Biyik’s brother, Francois Omam-Biyik, rose above the Argentinean defender. His header was not particularly powerful, and Argentina’s veteran goalkeeper from Betis Seville, Nery Pumpido, must be blamed for fumbling the ball into goal. Pumpido was injured in the next match, and his substitute Sergio Goycoechea became the best goalkeeper of the tournament.
Cameroon were sensationally ahead, and one man down defended heroically against the oncoming Argentinean attacks. In particular Claudio Canniggia was creating havoc, and on a spectacular run towards the end of the match he was violently brought down by Benjamin Massing, who was also given a red card.
The score held.
Cameroon had sensationally defeated the world champions, and immediately became the darlings of the tournament. Cameroon made it to the quarter-final where only England’s Gary Lineker was able to stop the Africans. For many, this was the game that definitively brought African football to the fore of world football.
Although Argentina had suffered what seemed a humiliating defeat, the team still fought hard and in spite of not playing good football, still made it all the way to the final, where they lost to West Germany in a repeat of the 1986 final.

Match Stats:
  • 8th June, 1990, Stadio Giusseppe Meazza, Milano
  • Attendance: 73,780
  • Referee: Michel Vautrot (France)
Cameroon-Argentina 1-0
Goals: 1-0 Omam-Biyik (67)

Argentina: Pumpido; Batista, Balbo, Basualdo, Burruchaga, Lorenzo, Fabbri, Maradona, Sensini (Calderón), Ruggeri (Caniggia), Simon
Cameroon: Nkono; Kana-Biyik (RC, 61), Massing (RC, 89), Ebwelle, Kunde, Omam-Biyik, Mbouh, Mfede (Libiih), Tataw, Ndip, Makanaky (Milla)

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