By Rene Katche
Cameroon pass through Zimbabwe for the US!
On October 10, 1993, shortly before a staunch World Cup qualifier against Cameroon at the Amadou Ahidjo stadium, Zimbabwe’s “white” goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelar, complacently tells François Omam Biyick that they have come to crush Cameroon and qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
Grobbelar had initially put up a five-star performance on July 4, 1993 during the first leg in Harare. His outstanding performance had permitted the warriors to defeat Cameroon 1-0.
Zimbabwe had also beaten Guinea 1-0 on September 26, 1993.
And so with six points just like Cameroon who had thrashed Guinea 3-1 on April 18 in Yaounde, and 1-0 on July 18 in Conackry, Zimbabwe needed a win by all cost to qualify for USA 94.
The Zimbabweans came to Yaounde with an over doze of confidence buoyed by then Stoke city goalkeeper Grobbelar.
The Cameroon starting XI:
Goalkeeper Joseph Bell Antoine.
Cameroon align just two defenders: Stephen Tataw(c) and Alphonse Yombi.
There are four midfielders Marc Vivian Foe, Mbouh Mbouh Emile, Jean Claude Pagal and Alphonse Tchami.
Four attackers with Joseph Andre Mbarga and Denis Chantal Nde slightly behind the poisonous David Embe and the instinctive François Omam Biyick.
Referee Faye Chan gives the kick off.
On nine minutes, David Embe bustles through Norman Mapeza and Henry Mckop, unleashes a thunderbolt that hits the left arm of Peter Ndlovu inside the goal area. It’s penalty for Cameroonooooooooooon!!!
Omam Biyick whips it straight into the body frame of goalkeeper Grobbelar, but eventually scores the rebound. Unbelievable! The over 100, 000 Cameroonian spectators in Mfandena are collectively on their feet with a heavy sigh of relief and then celebration. Cameroon 1-0 Zimbabwe.
On 25 minutes Omam Biyick tears his way into the Zimbabwean bed room and punishes England-based Grobbelar again with a right footed shot. There is total pandemonium in the stadium. Cameroon take the lead and domination into half time.
Upon resumption, Adam Ndlovu tricks Pagal with a good run to reduce tally on 80 minutes. The earth quake jubilation at the Amadou Ahidjo stadium is reduced to its barest minimum.
Emmanuel Maboang Kessack(substitute) replies on 88 minutes with a blistering right footed shot that sends the Cameroonian spectators to the wildest of celebration. Maboang has just booked a ticket for Cameroon in the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA.
How Albert Roger Milla stole the show!
Note that until now(1993), Milla is not in the picture. The 42 year old has just returned home from France and has obtained a license from Tonnere Kalara Club of Yaounde. He was very hungry for a third World Cup, but had real opposition in the pecking order. The very productive Omam Biyick was his real stumbling block.
The entire Nation endorsed Milla’s inclusion into the 94 World Cup final squad list. Of course, there had to be a nationwide donation(coup de coeur) to support the team and Milla’s inclusion on the list was one of the bargains. Cameroonians believed in the goal scoring potential of Milla and were unshakable in their conviction that Stephen Tataw and his compatriots could win the tournament in the United States of America. The lions had obviously seduced the Cameroonian public with brilliance in the Italian 1900 World Cup.
There is a revelation that Milla did not drink alcohol for long and jealously kept his fitness in tact, because he wanted to be ready for the World Cup. His stunning performance at Tonnerre that season captured the admiration of even the neutral observer. With all these factors playing to Milla’s favour, Lions coach Henri Michel, had no other choice than include Milla and save his job.
Arriving in the US, there is a lot of intestinal cracks within the Cameroon team and this will eventually affect the team’s performance adversely.
The huge Nationwide donation destined for the players disappears between Yaounde and New York. The minister of communication at the time, Augustin Kontchou Komegni, bearer of the lions’ special package, declares at a press conference that the brief case is somewhere between Paris and New York.
But in spite of all these quagmire, the Indomitable lions would still hold their breath.
June 19, 1994, Cameroon holds Sweden to a 2 all draw with goals from David Embé(31′) and Omam Biyick(47′). Take note that Joseph Bell Antoine is between the sticks for Cameroon.
Then calamity begins.
On June 24, inspired by a certain poisonous duo, Romario and Bebeto, Brazil punishes Cameroon 3-0. An exuberant Rigobert Song Bahanag is red carded on 63 minutes, and he walks out of the Stanford stadium crying like a kid. Note that Joseph Bell Antoine is still on the goal cage for Cameroon.
Then the worst happens on June 28 against Russia. There are back clashes, accusations, counter accusations, political gimmicks between Yaounde and New York and there is unprecedented riot in the den over unpaid match bonuses.
There is a call from Yaounde to sideline Bell on the bench in favour of Jacques Songo’o. The players align with Bell but the Yaounde decision is final. Cameroon arrives very late at the Stanford stadium for that last game, and then referee Jamal Al Sharif from Syria gives the kick off.
It takes just 15 minutes for the Russian punches to begin. Oleg Salenko bustles his way through the transparent Agbo Hans to punish Jacque Songo’o on 15 minutes.
Another poor concentration from Agbo Hans spurs Salenko to fire home his second of the night on 41 minutes.
2 minutes later, Hans again brings down Salenko inside the 6 yard the referee points to the penalty spot. Salenko makes 3-0 on 42 minutes. Cameroon are heading for the rocks.
Roger Milla replaces Louis Paul Mfede, and gives inspires confidence with his very first touch of the ball. The 42 years old striker stinks Russian goalkeeper Stanislav with a stunner on 46 minutes but this will only turn out to be a consolation goal. Russia bang their 4th on 72 through Salenko, who for the umpteenth time is making a nonsense of Agbo Hans.
At this point, Agbo Hans and Jacques Songo’o are surely praying and begging for a replacement, but No! Hans had a catastrophic Agbo Hans has just over lapped! Danger for Cameroon! Salenko cruises through again, and on 75 minutes he creates history with a 5th goal of the night. (Take note he remains the only player to have ever hammered 5 goals in a single World Cup contest).
Then on 80 minutes, Salenko is with the ball. He impeccablly dribbles pass Thomas Libiih and Ndip Akeng Victor, and is bulldozing his way into the Cameroon goal area….. It’s not a an off side and Cameronian commentator Ndze Michael cries out on National television….”Solenko is coming againnnnnnnnn, ayayayayayayayai”.
Then Solenko calmly serves team mate, Radchenko, who slots home Russia’s 6th of the night.
A brutal end, but with many lessons learned. This is because, the 1994 event set the stage for a glorious golden generation of Cameroonian footballers with Rigobert Song Bahanag, Marc Vivian Foe and Raymond Kalla eventually graduating into world class talents.
The rest belongs to history