In the last two decades, the most frequent question I’ve been asked is, ‘when would an African country win the World Cup?’ The continent, after all, is so rich with talent and it’s players possessing unique characteristics.
I try being diplomatic most of the times but once in a while I blurt out the truth. And honestly — I won’t say never — but I don’t see an African team winning the World Cup for the foreseeable future. For that, you need players who have self belief – a lot of it — are disciplined and of course, technically that good.
While the African players are technically sound, no doubt, they have been lacking the temperament and discipline to succeed at the World Cups. For them, the first target should be to reach the semifinals first before dreaming about the World Cup.
I remember in 1990, when we beat defending champions Argentina 1-0, we had a belief that we could win even before kick-off. We always believed that we could, there was a lot of positivity and confidence. We were up for having a good World Cup and we knew that we had to get off to a good start.
Our tactics for that opening match were simply to shut out Diego Maradona. We knew that if we kept Maradona quiet, we had a chance. For that, we had to remain disciplined for the entire duration of the match. And we did just that.
For us, to be the first team from Africa to reach the quarterfinals was something special. At the same time, we had underestimated the impact it would have back home. There was no way of knowing it since the media was not so evolved. But the reaction back home was crazy.
It was delirium. We were greeted by 20,000 fans at Douala airport. I was the last one to get off the plane and was given a two-minute ovation before we embarked on a 12-mile parade through the streets of Yaounde, the capital.
I did not think I could be as famous as I was but I stayed the same person and the same sportsman so it did not change anything in my life. After a few weeks had passed, we started to regret that we did not go further. We lost to England in extra time and realised we had had a chance to win but couldn’t.
Still, the support we got was amazing. It felt like the whole of the third world supported Cameroon. But football has changed a lot in the last 20 years and so has its demographics. A lot players from Africa now play in Europe and have been very, very successful. But because of that, African football has become more about individuals instead of the teams and that reflects in the way they play.
The only time I have had a feeling which is similar to the one I had in 1990 was four years ago, when Ghana lost to Uruguay in the extra time of that riveting quarterfinal. I really believed Ghana had it in them to reach the semifinals — they were a very strong side and believed in themselves.
They were playing beautiful football, had their tactics spot on but were eventually undone by Suarez’s hand of God moment before their nerves got the better of them.
Among the African teams, I believe they have the best chance of making it to the semifinals again. I hope they make it, they’ve been one of the most hard working teams and their players take pride in playing for the country. Another team which I think can go to the last four is Ivory Coast. In Didier Drogba, they’ve one of the best players but he’ll have to be well-supported by the likes of Toure brothers.
From Cameroon’s point of view, it is important for everyone that Samuel Eto’o is in good shape for the World Cup. If Samuel is in form then it will mean that all of his team-mates are in form. But it won’t be so straightforward.
The team is in a very tough group which includes hosts Brazil, Mexico and Croatia. Can we spring another surprise? I have my doubts. But it’s the World Cup, so you never know.
(Milla was a part of the 1990 Cameroon team that beat Argentina, becoming one of the stars of the World Cup)