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 continued…