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1990 England: Cameroon

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 15 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss

England were to come good at the right time in the later stages of the 1990 World Cup. The team were beginning to gel, but then they ran into the “Indomitable Lions” of the Cameroon national side.

England Run-Down

The England team, under Bobby Robson, had delivered the traditional heart-failure-inducing road to the quarter-finals, in particular with the spectacular last-minute volley from David Platt against Belgium that had finally sealed England’s place in the last eight. The group stages had seen draws against the Republic of Ireland and Holland, then a 1-0 win against the massed ranks of the Egyptian defence, but the team was beginning to play well.

A forced change, after captain Bryan Robson had had to withdraw with recurring injuries to his achilles tendon and toe, meant Mark Wright playing as a sweeper with the creative talents of Paul Gascoigne and David Platt in front of him. Ace poacher Gary Lineker led the line with Chris Waddle and John Barnes on the flanks.

The Surprise Package

Cameroon had marked the emergence of African nations as footballing forces to be reckoned with and served notice by beating Argentina 2-1 in their group stage opener. They were the first African team to reach the a World Cup quarter-final, playing ebullient, electrifying attacking football but showing naivety and a lack of discipline in defence.

Most of the attention was focussed on Roger Milla, the 38-year-old striker who had played top-flight football in France and had been personally requested to come out of retirement for the World Cup by the Cameroonian president. He scored four goals in the tournament and brought the ‘dance around the corner flag’ goal celebration to the world, scoring twice in the 2-1 second round victory against Columbia which got them to the quarter-finals.

Let Battle Commence

The match was, as expected, a case of the free-running Cameroonians taking the match to England, but a solid defence with full-backs Paul Parker and Stuart Pearce, and centre-backs Des Walker and Terry Butcher in front of Peter Shilton, soaked up the pressure and England opened up the scoring with a David Platt header from Stuart Pearce’s cross in the 25 minute. This spurred the Africans on and Shilton had to make a couple of saves to retain the lead going into the second half.

Milla Comes On

A bold move by Cameroon's Russian manager, Valeri Nepomniachy, saw Milla come on at half-time and after a quarter of an hour, he created the opening that saw a penalty awarded to Cameroon, which Emmanuel Kunde duly dispatched. Less than five minutes later, Milla struck again, making an opportunity for Eugene Ekeke, and Cameroon were 2-1 up.


But this England team was one with grit and determination and would not give up, knowing that they had taken the Belgian game in the 119th minute. Gascoigne and Wright in particular pushed forward, realising that if they could get in the area, the chances were that the Cameroonians naivety could lead to penalties. And so it proved to be, with eight minutes to go, when Wright passed to Lineker who was tripped as he tried to turn on to the ball. Again the penalty was despatched, and with the score at 2-2 extra time loomed.

Lineker Does it Again

Just as the first fifteen minute period of extra time was coming to an end, Cameroon fell into the same trap. Again it was Lineker who ran on to a ball from midfield and was clattered by a combination of defender and goalkeeper. This gave him a problem though; he only had one penalty, that he’d practised over and over again, so that if the opportunity arose, he wouldn’t change his mind at the last minute.

He didn't feel it would be right to repeat the same shot, so Lineker decided to hit the ball right down the middle. Fortunately the goalkeeper dived in the same direction of the previous penalty. England took control for the second period of extra time with both Lineker and Beardsley coming close but it stayed at 3-2 and England were through to in the semi-final, against West Germany.

What Could Have Been

Although disappointed at losing the game, the Cameroon team were widely respected for their showing at the tournament. Roger Milla would return four years later to break his own record as the oldest scorer in a World Cup tournament at the age of 42 with a goal against Russia, but on that occasion they went out at the group stage.

Bobby Robson, the England manager, said that the match was such a battle that it raised the level of solidarity in the team and they were spurred on to a superb performance in the semi-final. Agonisingly though, they lost a match that they could well have won, on penalties, and West Germany went on to win the tournament.

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