With the advantage over the reigning world champion, Cameroon I felt that I had the match assured. Thanks to that jump to heaven that immortalized Omam-Biyik, the African team was about to generate one of the greatest impacts in World Cup history. With less than 10 minutes to go before the end of the game, the Soviet coach Valeri Nepomnyashchy decided to send the player who entered the list in good faith thanks to a Presidential term.
Physically impeccable at 38, the entry of that number 9 in 3D format of the jerseys of the time served as a sign of what would happen later with the experienced striker in Italy 90. That was the World Cup. Indomitable Lions, the first African team in history to go that far in the world's highest soccer tournament. That was not the first World Cup for Roger Milla. What's more, it was on the verge of not being his second performance with the national team after its premiere in Spain 82, but everything changed a few months earlier by a call.
Mile already had planned his retirement from professional football when the phone rang for his residence on the island of Reunion, a heavenly place located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, corresponding to the French overseas. "Yes, the President of the Republic called me. It was difficult for those who did not understand his decision. So I proudly honored his call, "Cameroon confessed to Infobae from their land.
According to legend, Paul Biya, current first president of the African country and the same who has been in office for 36 years, was in charge of seducing the historic attacker to join the World Cup. Before signing with the semi-professional team Jeunesse Sportive Saint-Pierroise from the French archipelago, Milla had had a successful stint at Montpellier, where he had scored 37 goals in three seasons with the team.
Almost without activity, the powerful and skillful soccer player understood that the presidential call was with the objective of add experience to a youth team, almost without international friction beyond that of the goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono, who at that time already defended the three suits of Espanyol, of Barcelona. Once Milla gave the Yes, the history of football in Cameroon was forever transformed.
“We prepared very well when we were in Yugoslavia. There were beautiful infrastructures, we were well accommodated. All the conditions were met to make a great World Cup"Recalls the veteran 9 of the African team about the preparation that the team carried out on European soil, just in one of the countries that also crossed paths with the Argentine team in the World Cup in Italy.
Once Cameroon landed in the host country of the World Cup, the selected one was ready to face each other with the team led by Carlos Salvador Bilardo. "At that time, Argentina was the current world champion, so we feared everyone, not just Maradona", analyzes Roger Milla to Infobae. In what was the opening game of 1990, the Africans targeted the physicist of the Argentine captain as few times in the momentous career of Argentina's historic 10.
The Indomitable Lions were also fierce against a front blonde that was characterized by its speed in the attack and that entered the beginning of the second stage of the match that was played at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium. "Claudio Caniggia, for example, was very dangerous, he could only overcome the defense. We prepared that match with the objective of doing a good performance. We did not want to be spectators against Argentina, ”recalls the former Cameroonian footballer.
Despite the attempts, and with a Maradona destroyed by the attacks of the African defense, the goal of Omam-Biyik, who had the complicity of Nery Pumpido, penetrated like a dagger into the Argentine heart. Cameroon made history with its remembered 1-0 in Milan, a victory that was key to go to the next round of the World Cup. How did the Cameroonians live the minute after the end of the game? “When the game ended, I only remember the explosion of joy that was around us. It was incredible"said a memorable Milla.
That victory of the Africans put the calculator in the hands of the Argentine team. But also in those of the Soviet Union and Romania, the other members of Group B. While the rest thought about qualifying for the round of 16, June 14, 1990 became an unforgettable date for that 9 of almost four decades old. In Bari, and thanks to his two conquests – again starting from the bench – Milla gave the victory to his team against the Romanians. With only 30 minutes on the field, but with all the skill of an experienced attacker, Roger's dance with the corner flag after his goals toured the world. The same as the news that Cameroon had become the first African team to advance to the second phase of a World Cup.
After advancing as the leader of the area, the rival to beat for the Africans was the Colombia of René Higuita. In what was the first match of the series of eighths, the goalless draw in regular time led the duel to supplementary. And there he appeared, again to mark a double that was another milestone in the history of his team. After achieving great definition above the body of the Colombian goalkeeper, Milla used all her wisdom and made a fool of herself the man who became famous for making the Scorpio at Wembley.
Higuita tried to gambe to the attacker from Cameroon, but he stole the ball and defined with the free arc to classify his team to the quarterfinals of Italy 90. "I don't know if that was one of the best plays of my career, but one thing is for sure: my best memories as a soccer player are from my matches at that World Cup", mentioned the soccer player chosen by FIFA as the best African player of the 20th century.
Already among the top eight teams in the competition, Cameroon dreamed of enhancing its history. In an electrifying match against England in the San Paolo from Naples, finally the Lions were tamed. Thanks to a superlative performance of Gary Lineker, author of the three goals of his selection, the British went from being eliminated to turning the result in overtime. The Africans were minutes away from giving another historic blow in the 90's, even bigger than the initial victory against Argentina.
“After the game against England, we did not regret it because we were the first African country to reach this stage of the competition. But today, seeing what was done, I think there was room to do it better. I have the feeling that we could have qualified for the final if we beat England, in the final everything is allowed…"Milla analyzes the feelings after the elimination and his thoughts 30 years after that tournament that forever marked African football.
"We mark the world with our performances", says the man who is 68 years old today and who lives simply in Cameroon, at the same time that he is in charge of helping young people with the help of his foundation called Hearts of Africa.
Time passed for Roger Milla. After his heroic performance in Italy, four years later became the longest-serving player to score a goal in the group stage of a World Cup. In the 6-1 of Russia against Cameroon, now 42, the 9 scored the only goal of a team that, unlike what he had achieved in Italy, passed without penalty or glory through the United States 94.
Once he retired in 1996, after playing a couple of years in Indonesia, Milla's career ended with one account pending: playing for one of the world's great teams. Almost like a parallel story to the fiction that Brad Pitt starred in The curious Case of Benjamin ButtonRoger saw his football life rejuvenate when many had already chosen to hang up his boots.
"I would have liked to play in Barcelona because of its technicality. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and AC Milan would have loved me too. Everything would have been possible if I had arrived in Europe at the age of 17 or 18"Analyzes Milla, who also took his time to highlight those who he believes are the best teams in the world today.
“I always watch soccer, especially when there are good games. Barcelona, Manchester City or even PSG play beautiful football and I love beautiful soccer. It is a pleasure to see you. "
In the balance of the best in the history of the sport that knew how to play, there are several footballers with their own weight to excel. The taste of each fanatic is the one that finishes defining their choice. For Milla, Lionel Messi is one of the greatest of all time, but not number 1.
“Messi is a fabulous player and, of course, one of the best in history. The best for me is King Pelé"He answers bluntly.
Chosen as one of the men who marked the history of the World Cups, just three decades after starring in one of the revelation teams in the World Cups, Roger Milla says goodbye with a phrase that graphs his movie life with the ball In the feet. “I couldn't imagine that one day I would become a professional footballer. I didn't even know what it was. I used to play soccer just for fun. ". From not even thinking to being a legend. An incredible life.
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