World Cup -- Cameroon's record in the 1982 competition was incorrect in yesterday's editions. It was 0-0-3. (Published 6/10/90)
MILAN, JUNE 8 -- Some will call it "The Miracle of Milan." Others might call it the "Mugging of Maradona." But surely it will be remembered as the day the "Lions of Africa" roared.
Unheralded Cameroon stunned defending champion Argentina, 1-0, today in the opening game of the World Cup soccer finals.
It couldn't have been a more fitting moment for soccer, coming with much of the world's attention focused on its favorite game and serving as proof for Americans that this sport can be nothing short of electrifying even if only a single goal is scored.
The upset was reminiscent in World Cup lore of the U.S. team's 1-0 conquest of England in Brazil in 1950, when Joe Gaetjens made even a more fabulous shot that proved to be the greatest moment in American soccer before or since.
Nobody here today believed in Cameroon except for the thousands of boisterous, flag-waving partisans who screamed and wept with joy in the evening shadows of Giuseppe Meazza Stadium after Francois Omam Biyik scored on a header in the 66th minute. Then, brazenly, the Lions didn't simply purr. They charged Argentina.
They pressed while playing with only nine men against 11, two having been sent off for rough play, most of it directed at the star of the 1986 Cup, little Diego Maradona. Frustrated and frequently complaining, Maradona was the victim of 11 of Cameroon's 30 fouls, and at the bitter end disgustedly booted the ball toward the ultra-modern stadium's massive plexiglass roof.
At 24, Biyik is a veteran of Cameroon's only other World Cup team (0-2-1 in 1982) and the team leader with five goals in this tournament's qualifying play. Similarly, it was his goal that beat Tunisia, 1-0, to make his team the champion of Africa. He plays for a club in France, Stade Lavallois. But today he came of age.
Cameroon plays a blended game utilizing speed to take occasional darting chances at a goal, plus demoralizing, rugged defense. Yet one factor contributing to the 500-to-1 odds against Cameroon winning the World Cup has been its communication problems.
The coach is from the Soviet Union. His name is Valeri Nepomniacij. The French-speaking team needs a language link with its coach and, wonder of wonders, it's the chauffeur at the Soviet embassy in Cameroon.
He translated for hundreds of newsmen today, relaying the coach's denial that any overly rough play was intended against Maradona. But it was obvious from the start that Cameroon was not just going to mark Maradona; it intended to leave an indelible stamp.
The grass-stained butterfly, 5 feet 5, was swatted to earth so often there was no one better to testify that the stadium turf put down so recently, that had so many Milanese worried, holds just fine.
For its next game, against Romania, Cameroon will be denied the services of red-carded aggressors Benjamin Massing and Biyik's brother, Andre Kana Biyik. The older Biyik went off just a few minutes before Francois made true Cameroon President Paul Biya's prediction that his Lions would bring to this late afternoon game an "unbeatable strength."
Andre, too, has been around, having delivered a concussion and broken nose to a Morrocan sweeper with a butt in a major match two years ago. He and teammates today stayed closer to Maradona than Italian security.
Who but the Cameroon cheering section among the crowd of 73,780 could have expected much more than the lavish pregame ceremonies that included Milan fashion models walking makeshift runways on both sides of the field and La Scala conductor Riccardo Muti leading what had to be one of the most stirring musical warmups for a sports event?
But Muti must have ended up as spiritually crushed as Maradona was physically. A native of Napoli where Maradona plays professionally, Muti is one of Maradona's biggest fans.
Following the script of most dramatic upsets, the underdog gradually built up confidence. After Maradona had led the defending champions onto the field and accepted cheers of "Napoli, Napoli" with friendly waves, Argentina confidently, fluidly began a possession game with precise passing. But Cameroon literally struck back.
Massing dumped Maradona for a yellow card; Maradona lay clutching his leg. Shortly afterward, Cameroon unleashed one of its patented spurts, Emmanuel Makanaky shooting past Argentine goalie Nery Pumpido, only to have Jorge Burruchaga drop back alertly to kick the ball clear.
Victor N'Dip also took a yellow card for body-slamming Maradona. This time, he lay writhing with a bruised left shoulder. When he finally got up, he was soon knocked down yet again -- no penalty this time. A fourth knockdown and Maradona shook his head, like a groggy boxer. Cameroon was beginning to take the play away, decisively.
They did it by containing Maradona with three middle defenders: Emmanuel Kunde, 33, an '82 Cup team member, on the left, Massing, 29, in the middle, and N'Dip, 22, on the right.
All of these players fronted the Soviet coach's wise goalkeeper choice, Thomas N'Kono, the '82 team goalie who has been in Spain the past eight years but returned home just in time.
Cameroon came out running in the second half. It was becoming clear: Its players were taller, faster, more powerful, more motivated. Argentina's anguished coach, Carlos Bilardo, rushed into the lineup an injured offensive ace, long-haired Claudio Caniggia. Argentina was feeling the pressure.
Then came the tell-tale minutes. Andre Biyik was red-carded. A few minutes later and despite a man advantage, an unraveling Argentine team made its fatal mistake. Gabriel Lorenzo fouled Cyrille Makanaky, a midfielder breaking deep. Kunde took the free kick from the left side. He sent a floater toward the front of the goal, where Makanaky headed the ball backward to Biyik on the right. Biyik headed the ball sharply and Pumpido, drawn to his left, could barely get his hands on the ball as it hit at his feet as he tried to move to the right. The ball squirted away from him and into the goal.
The green, red and yellow flags waved as a roar went up and Biyik danced toward the sideline, pursued by delirious teammates. When play resumed, Cameroon even stepped up its pace. But Caniggia almost capitalized for Argentina. He broke free almost the length of the field, twice staggering as he dodged tackles. But Massing smashed him down. Caniggia was heard from no more. Maradona had become a memory.
"He is just a man with two legs," said a sad Bilardo. "Too much was placed on his shoulders today."
With Massing banished, Cameroon, two men down or not, still dominated, threatening again to score. The devastation was complete, the opening of the 14th World Cup finals startling history.
As if a great performance was ending, the patterns of sunlight formed across the pitch from the vaulted panels above grew smaller and smaller until, as the game ended, Cameroon's players raced away in utter joy and left Argentina in darkness.
Cameroon 0 1 1 Argentina 0 0 0 FIRST HALF Scoring: None. SECOND HALF Scoring: 1, Cameroon, Omam Biyik 1 (Makanaky), 66th minute. Yellow Cards: Massing, Cam, 9th minute; N'Dip, Cam, 22nd minute; Sensini, Arg, 30th minute; M'Bouh, Cam, 53rd minute. Red Cards: Kana Biyik, Cam, 62nd minute; Massing, Cam, 88th minute.
Referee: Michel Vautrot, France. Linesmen: Vincent Mauro, United States; Michal Listkiewicz, Poland.