The former Cameroon and Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o has apologised for what he described as a “violent altercation” at the World Cup on Monday night. A video on social media shows the 41-year-old striking a man to the ground with his right knee outside Stadium 974 in Doha.
In a statement, Eto’o, the president of his country’s football federation, said he was provoked by a fan who was “probably” an Algeria supporter as part of a campaign of harassment after Cameroon’s qualifying win against Algeria in March.
“After the Brazil-South Korea match, I had a violent altercation with a person who was probably an Algerian supporter,” Eto’o wrote on social media. “I would like to apologise for losing my temper and reacting in a way that does not match my personality. I apologise to the public for this unfortunate incident.”
The video initially shows Eto’o posing for pictures with fans outside the stadium, which staged the last-16 match between Brazil and South Korea on Monday. He then reacts to comments by a man holding a camera. Eto’o was initially held back by people in his entourage but he then got clear and kneed the man, who fell backwards to the ground.
The man, the Algerian social media personality Saïd Mamouni, published a video on YouTube saying he was the person who was attacked, and that he was at a Qatari police station to file a complaint against Eto’o.
He said that Eto’o became violent after Mamouni asked him whether he had bribed the Gambian referee Bakary Gassama in the controversial World Cup qualifier between Cameroon and Algeria in March. Cameroon won the second leg 2-1 in the final moments and qualified for the World Cup on away goals.
Algeria’s football federation filed a complaint with Fifa demanding a replay because of what it deemed refereeing errors by Gassama. Fifa dismissed the complaint.
Algeria’s grievance carried over to the Cameroon team’s first news conference in Qatar, one day before playing Switzerland. An Algerian reporter’s question to Cameroon’s coach, Rigobert Song, about having “bought qualification” was not answered.
Eto’o said in his statement: “I pledge to continue to resist the relentless provocation and daily harassment of some Algerian supporters. Indeed, since the Cameroon-Algeria match on 29 March in Blida, I have been the target of insults and allegations of cheating without any evidence.
“During this World Cup, Cameroonian fans have been harassed and pestered by Algerians on the same subject. I would like to mention that the scenario of Algeria’s defeat was cruel but perfectly in line with the rules and ethics of our sport.
“All the appeals made by the Algerian Football Federation to the competent jurisdictions have been rejected. I therefore call on the Algerian authorities and federation to take their responsibilities to put an end to this unhealthy climate before a more serious tragedy occurs.
“To Fennecs’ fans, I wish that they find peace and manage to overcome the disappointment of a painful defeat, now behind us.”
Eto’o has been a global ambassador for Qatar’s World Cup organising committee since 2019.
Italia 90’s accepted place in football history is that of a poor tournament where the crosswinds of geopolitics coloured a World Cup with a deeper cultural impact than any other. The final appearances of West Germany and Yugoslavia, a post-Ceausescu Romania throwing off the shackles and the Republic of Ireland’s days of heaven under Jack Charlton represent a small sample of myriad narratives.
When England take on Senegal in Al Khor on Sunday, further memories of 32 years ago will be conjured, for that was the first – and last – time England faced African opposition in a World Cup knockout match. Cameroon in Naples on 1 July 1990 in the quarter-finals ended the Indomitable Lions’ thrilling run as a 3-2 win forged English hopes of going all the way.
No African team has since gone further than the quarter-finals, and England have still not breached the semis. Naples proved a damn close-run thing for an England managed by the late Bobby Robson. “At one time I thought we were on the plane home,” he said. “They were the better team when they went ahead but it was a see-sawing saga of a match.”
Despite being unfamiliar with each other, Cameroon and England shared at least one thing. Both teams had introduced new dance crazes to Italy’s World Cup stadiums. For Roger Milla’s corner-flag jig, the striker’s hips undulating as his teammates joined him in celebration of his two goals against Colombia in the second round, read Terry Butcher and Chris Waddle leading the England fans through their “let’s all have a disco” routine after David Platt’s late volley had beaten Belgium.
Milla’s moves were notably lithe for someone past his 38th birthday, whereas Butcher’s and Waddle’s hand-jive resembled a pair of inebriated bricklayers, but both were indicators that the austerity of 80s football was at its end. Here was football as fun, the germ of an entertainment franchise the game, particularly the World Cup, would soon become.
“He had never done that before,” said Joseph-Antoine Bell of Milla’s dance. Cameroon’s reserve goalkeeper did not get on the field in Italy but as an established professional with Bordeaux was an influential voice among a group he told this writer in 2014 “was not like a professional team”.
By contrast with Senegal’s squad at the 2022 World Cup, stacked with players of Premier League and high-end European experience, including Chelsea’s Édouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly, Cameroon’s squad had 11 home-based players, pretty much amateur footballers. Only five played top-level football abroad, all in France aside from the first-choice goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono, signed by Espanyol after Cameroon’s appearance in Spain’s 1982 World Cup, where a draw with the eventual winners Italy had signposted future heroics.
Milla was winding down his career with JS Saint-Pierroise in the French overseas department of Réunion but 1990 lent him a new lease of life. “At 38 I couldn’t have imagined I would play like that,” he told this writer. He did not score against England, instead acting as supplier for both Cameroon’s goals.
First, he was fouled by a blundering Paul Gascoigne for Emmanuel Kundé to equalise David Platt’s headed opener from the penalty spot. Then, by controlling the ball with the sole of his boot and spinning within one movement, he found space to play in Eugène Ekéké to put Cameroon 2-1 up. “One of my great souvenirs is that we led England seven minutes from the end of the game,” he said.
A relaxed character off the field, for all his silky movement Milla played his best football within a permanent fug of annoyance. “He was angry at everything, angry at the opponent and angry about the referee,” said Bell. “We finally discovered that he needed to be like that to deliver.”
The chaos of Cameroon’s progress to the quarters via beating Argentina in the tournament’s bruising opening match, delivering probably the greatest shock in the history of the World Cup finals, then Milla bagging two while ransacking the Colombia goalkeeper René Higuita’s sweeper-keeper pretensions, had led England to seriously underestimate their opponents.
“A practical bye to the semi-finals” is a diagnosis attributed to Howard Wilkinson, the then-Leeds manager, scouting in Italy for the English FA. Watching the game back, it appears Robson took “Sgt Wilko” and such dismissiveness to heart. England only just prevailed in a match that very nearly escaped from them. “Some fucking bye that,” a relieved, exhausted Waddle told Wilkinson in the immediate aftermath.
Still, Robson had also believed England were not alone in carrying out an intelligence mission on the opposition, and on the eve of the match, as Gary Lineker readied his usual penalty-taking routine, smashing the ball as hard as possible to the keeper’s left in repeated tried and trusted fashion, he was warned by his manager that Cameroon had a spy operating in the San Paolo stadium.
Instead, Lineker took all of his practice kicks to the keeper’s right, and Robson’s suspicions, unfounded or not, would prove crucial. “I knew I was going to put it to the keeper’s left and, even as I hit it, I could see him going to his right,” Lineker said of the penalty he slotted past N’Kono to equalise for 2-2 seven minutes from time. “At the end of normal time, 2-2, Bobby hugged me and said: ‘I told you.’”
Before that equaliser, England had ridden out a firestorm, 90 minutes in which Gascoigne and Platt were overrun in midfield, the attacking verve and improvisational attacking of Cameroon, “unbelievably smooth in their movements” as the BBC commentator Barry Davies put it, almost irresistible.
In extra time, England’s rocky path to the semis finally arrived, Gascoigne recovering his composure to ping Lineker through to be fouled by Benjamin Massing. From the spot, Lineker again aimed hard to N’Kono’s left to score. “We pulled it out of the fire and I don’t really know how,” Robson admitted.
Cameroon’s highlight of the evening appeared to arrive before the actual game when high spirits had them sashaying down the corridor to the dressing room in vocal form. From here their night nosedived until the 92nd minute when a beauty of a header from Vincent Aboubakar made history as the Indomitable Lions claimed a first win over Brazil.
It was followed by the captain ripping off his shirt in jubilation and being sent off for a second yellow card for the offence and with Switzerland taking three points in their showdown with Serbia Rigobert Song’s side were knocked out.
Brazil ended as Group G victors – on goal difference only – and face South Korea next yet the high-spirits that had Tite’s men arriving at Lusail Stadium singing and dancing too were punctured. If the sight of them jigging and (literally) rocking their coach on arrival had been read by any serious rival as the world’s No 1 side believing it is their destiny to claim a sixth World Cup arrogance may now be the accusation, especially as their talisman, Neymar, was again missing and his injured ankle should rule him further.
Which team, though, would not be relaxed when the coach can make nine changes and four of those drafted in still be Antony, Gabriel Martinelli, Rodrygo and Gabriel Jesus, and the truth here was that Brazil never got out of second gear.
While only Fred and Éder Militão were retained from victory over Switzerland, the headline fresh name was Dani Alves, who at 39 added winning cap No 125 (drawing level with Roberto Carlos as Brazil’s second highest appearance maker) and becoming his nation’s oldest World Cup captain to the CV of one of the great careers.
Alves enjoyed himself, pitching in free-kicks, ordering teammates about and drifting inside when his side advanced such as when linking with Fred for the latter to drop a ball to the far post where Martinelli’s leap-and-header had Devis Epassy in acrobat mode to repel.
Fred did his own elastic man-thing when pivoting to hit a volley at Epassy’s goal: a deflection meant a corner, Rodrygo’s initial stab in went for a second, and, again, Cameroon escaped.
Until the late winner, this was what Cameroon did: cling on. Brazil, in their blue strip, encircled their area with men and in one clever move Antony somehow saw Martinelli dashing for the penalty spot but the Arsenal man was blocked off.
A booking for Pierre Kunde for clipping Rodrygo, whose after-burners zipped along a diagonal, was Cameroon’s issue in a nutshell: hurtling at them was pace, trickery, invention, and directness. And so it was that a wheezing Collins Fai was the next to see Ismail Elfath’s yellow card waved at him, the referee chuckling mildly at the right-back’s protestations. The foul, once more, was on Rodrygo, Alves’s free-kick poor, but Brazil’s one-way traffic was veering into roadblock territory as Cameroon were trapped at every turn.
When Fred steered the ball to Antony, who was inside Cameroon’s area, regular Manchester United watchers expected the latter to cut inside onto his left and shoot – he did – but the effort lacked direction and could be clutched by Epassy.
Missing from all this ball-hogging act was a Brazil goal. Possession was at 68.4% for them but Tite’s close-to-second string lacked, thus far, cool execution near the posts. Cameroon would love to have this problem. As the interval beckoned an Aboubakar dink into the area that Ederson cleaned up was being written up as one of the (very) few moments they were allowed close to the Brazil No 1. But, then, in virtually the last play of the half they gave Brazil a fright.
The ball was chipped in from the left from Moumi Ngamaleu and Bryan Mbeumo’s header went into the turf first and skidded up enough for Ederson to have to fly right to prevent the goal.
Before, Martinelli had skipped along the Cameroon area from the left and blazed at Epassy’s goal, the keeper, impressively, saving at a high angle but when the sides reassembled after the break Cameroon still had the chance of the win required to have any chance of last-16 football.
The claiming of a corner by Mbuemo off Bremer was the best way to commence what they hoped would not be their last 45 minutes of Qatar 2022. No dividend was yielded from the kick, though. Better, was an Aboubakar swivel-and-strike that flashed by Ederson and narrowly missed.
Brazil had become a touch complacent, Fred’s mis-control in the centre circle indicative. But now came Martinelli, who seems to have a glide button which he pressed to take him through on goal as if Cameroon’s defence were awol (they weren’t) and only Epassy again stopped the goal. This meant yet another corner and when Militão struck the delivery Epassy this time fumbled and recovered in a heart-jolting moment for the keeper.
On view was one team fine-tuning their reserves for the battles ahead and the other hoping to dodge oblivion via the miracle of a win and Switzerland giving up their lead. The latter did not happen but the former did but it was not enough for Cameroon.
What happens when two sides with a propensity for meltdown clash? Something like this. A game with very little pattern, enormous amounts of drama, some exceptional goals and, in the end, a thrilling draw that doesn’t really suit either side. These are two of the great underachievers of the past three decades – Cameroon had lost their last eight World Cup games and Serbia nine of their last 11 – and the likelihood is that, again, neither will make it through to the last 16, but they have at least had some fun along the way.
Nothing that happened at Al Janoub on Monday was without complication, not the traffic, not the security and certainly not the buildup for two teams who always embrace chaos. In an echo of the golden age of the indomitable Lions, their coach Rigobert Song had expelled the Internazionale goalkeeper André Onana from the squad on the morning of the game.
This was how it tended to be 30-35 years ago, as coaches vacillated between the proactive Joseph-Antoine Bell and the more line-based Thomas N’Kono. As punishment for an indiscreet interview in a French newspaper, Bell was dropped on the day of Cameroon’s win over Argentina at the 1990 World Cup, so late that N’Kono’s wife, who had gone shopping rather than watch her husband sit on the bench at San Siro, only found he had played that evening.
Then in 1994, at Song’s first World Cup, there were so many goalkeeping bust-ups that N’Kono, Bell and the third-choice Jacques Songo’o played a game each in the group stage. The difference is that Bell and N’Kono were both exceptional keepers, and Songo’o a pretty good one, while Song’s preference for “traditional” goalkeeping, and Onana’s robust insistence that passing the ball out from the back is essential, led to the selection of Devis Epassy of the Saudi Arabian club Abha. A 10-year career in the French lower leagues before his big break with OFI of Crete does not scream out high-class alternative – and nor, in all honesty, did Epassy’s performance.
To begin with, this had all the hallmarks of a classic Serbian collapse. They had defended stoutly in the first half of their opener against Brazil, despite the injury to Filip Kostic and doubts over the fitness of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic, before being overrun in the second. Having begun well here, Mitrovic hitting the post and flashing another shot just wide, Serbia fell behind after 29 minutes, Jean-Charles Castelletto touching in Nicolas N’Koulou’s near-post flick-on. The script felt very familiar: arrive with promise and go home in frustration.
But two goals in first-half injury-time, the first a powerful header from Strahinja Pavlovic, the second a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic shot from the edge of the box that scuttled over Epassy’s hand, turned the game Serbia’s way. And when Mitrovic got his goal, rolling in after a sick move after Cameroon had given the ball away from a throw, it seemed as though there may be some truth to the claims that, under Dragan Stojkovic, this is a new, mentally resilient Serbia.
It is not. Song had been reluctant to deploy both Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting of Bayern Munich and Vincent Aboubakar, who had been top scorer at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, but the arrival of the Al Nassr striker turned the game again. First he ran on to Castelletto’s ball over the top and beat Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, the 6ft 9in Serbia keeper, with an audacious scooped finish. Then, leading another counter down the right, he squared for Choupo-Moting to equalise.
There were still 23 minutes to go at that point and it felt like anything could happen. Both sides had chances in the final quarter. Shapes disintegrated, which probably suited Cameroon more than Serbia. Stojkovic paced his technical area, arms repeatedly stretching out, head repeatedly clutched. Epassy made one block from Mitrovic but every time the ball came near him there was a sense of panic. Both sides have at least stopped the rot, but while Cameroon will ponder another goalkeeping furore, Serbia perhaps will, once again, rue bad luck with injuries at just the wrong time.
What any of this means beyond that, other than that Brazil and Switzerland will probably go through, is anybody’s guess.
Breel Embolo grew up in Basel but he was born in Cameroon’s capital Yaoundé and did not receive Swiss citizenship until eight years ago. It explains why Switzerland’s forward refrained from celebrating one of the simplest, yet potentially most significant, goals he has scored.
In a group also featuring Brazil and Serbia, this was a game Switzerland needed to win and, in the 48th minute, Embolo ensured it would prove mission accomplished.
It was not his fault that his six-yard finish drove a stake through Cameroonian hearts as the chances of their team progressing beyond the group stage for the first time since Italia 90 receded appreciably.
The opening week of Qatar 2022 has showcased plenty of intricate passing, intelligent movement and sometimes kaleidoscopic positional interchanging but Cameroon introduced a retro theme, reminding everyone that crashing balls into the corners has not necessarily had its day. Rigobert Song’s gameplan seemed heavily centred on getting the ball long, early, and, often high, to the Bayern Munich striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Xherdan Shaqiri, now with Chicago Fire, was clearly meant to serve as Switzerland’s creative catalyst but his every manoeuvre was heavily shadowed by Cameroon’s left-back Nouhou Tolo. When Shaqiri switched wings he experienced similar treatment from Collins Fai.
The growing realisation that it really wasn’t not Shaqiri’s sort of game dictated that although the Indomitable Lions most definitely did not always get their own way in a central midfield staffed for Switzerland by Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka and Nottingham Forest’s Remo Freuler, Cameroon were frequently free to concentrate on feeding Choupo-Moting.
Murat Yakin had opted to leave Newcastle’s in-form centre-half Fabian Schär on the bench and instead pair Manchester City’s Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi at the heart of his back four. Choupo-Moting revelled in subjecting them to a thorough work out, on one occasion flicking the ball beyond Akanji only to end up shooting tepidly at Yann Sommer.
An even better chance arrived when Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumo – whose right-sided advances troubled Switzerland – unleashed a shot that Sommer parried into the path of the well-placed Karl Toko Ekambi only for his effort to veer wildly off target.
Cameroon’s tactics may have been straight out of the Sam Allardyce playbook but he enjoyed quite a lot of success as a manager and as Sommer was forced to save again, this time from Martin Hongla, Switzerland looked distinctly unnerved.
By half-time they had barely threatened, failing to record a single effort on target. Yakin would surely have been alarmed to note that Cameroon’s key midfielder, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, had finished the first 45 minute strongly and increasingly looked capable of disrupting the Freuler-Xhaka axis.
For all Cameroon’s direct, pace-suffused, high-pressing full-back-propelled counterattacking, their defence looked a bundle of nerves on those, admittedly strictly rationed, occasions Switzerland delivered the ball into their area.
From one such incursion, in the 45th minute, they should really have scored but Akanji made a mess of an inviting header after connecting with Freuler’s corner.
Maybe that miss served to galvanise Switzerland as they emerged for the second half showing off an altogether slicker, sharper passing game and were swiftly reward as Embolo opened the scoring.
With the defence apparently having lost concentration Shaqiri was finally permitted to capitalise on smart approach work from Xhaka and Freuler and send a low cross curving towards the similarly unattended Monaco forward. All that remained was for Embolo to stroke the ball home from six yards before that impassive reaction.
It was Switzerland’s first shot on target and, admittedly only for a short while, the African drums and vuvuzelas – which had been making quite a noise on the Doha metro from as early as 9am – fell silent.
The soundtrack had resumed by the time Anguissa’s superb interception prevented Embolo from scoring again and then André Onana kept Cameron in the contest courtesy of a fabulous diving save from Ruben Vargas.
Generally though Switzerland were defending deep and, with Choupo-Moting a shadow of his first half self, Cameroon could find no way through their barricades.
The cult of the manager has hit new heights in Cameroon where Rigobert Song’s face stares down from countless roadside billboards and no current national player comes remotely close to rivalling the coach’s fame.
Song certainly exuded a distinctive aura as, fashionably late, he swept into a media theatre in Doha on Wednesday evening. Dressed in a brilliant white tracksuit and with a similarly bright white baseball cap – complete with an outsize peak – crowning his trademark long black dreadlocks, he looked more like a rock star striding on to a stage than a typical football manager.
As the former Liverpool and West Ham defender outlined his hopes for the Indomitable Lions’ opening group game against Switzerland on Thursday an apparently transfixed audience took the opportunity to capture endless pictures of Song and his trademark grey goatee beard on their mobile phones.
Undeterred by Switzerland’s position, 28 places above Cameroon in the Fifa rankings, he was in ebullient mood and suggested a surprise could be in store. “Switzerland will see our fire tomorrow,” he said. “We don’t mind the rankings, they’re just on paper. Who knew Saudi Arabia would beat Argentina? We’re fully fit and focused. Our pedigree will be known tomorrow.”
Poor Samuel Oum Gouet, the 24-year-old midfielder with Belgium’s Mechelen sitting alongside his manager barely got a word in edgeways. Indeed, when a journalist asked Gouet a rare question both manager and player burst out laughing.
After the briefing drew to a close Song stepped down from the stage and stood patiently, exuding charm, as reporters and tournament officials queued to shake his hand, pose for selfies alongside him and have a little chat with a man who played in four World Cups.
It seemed hard to credit that there was a moment, six years ago, when it all stopped for Cameroon’s manager. At the age of only 40 Song collapsed with a cerebral haemorrhage and remained in a coma for two days.
When he emerged from it doctors at Yaoundé’s emergency hospital decided his brain aneurysm required specialist treatment in France and he spent the next six months in Paris recovering before returning to Cameroon and eventually resuming his coaching career later in 2017.
Fast forward to February this year, and a coach who spent the past five years working with the Cameroon Federation succeeded António Conceição as head coach of the Indomitable Lions.
Although Song’s appointment came after an explicit order from Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya, it seemed a watershed moment for a country who have imported a long line of foreign coaches – Conceição is Portuguese.
Song’s critics, and there are a few, may claim he lacks frontline managerial experience and is overly laid back for the role but the majority appear keen to offer Cameroon’s most capped player the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, that outwardly relaxed demeanour does not, so far at least, seem incompatible with motivating players to hit new heights as they prepare to face not merely Switzerland but Serbia and Brazil in a tricky Group G.
High pressing and attack-minded, particularly down the flanks, Cameroon have, partly thanks to Song’s pulling power, developed a helpful habit of convincing dual-nationals to choose to play for them. In opting to turn his back on France, the country of both his own and his mother’s birth, the Brentford forward Bryan Mbeumo typifies this trend.
“We love music and we like dancing; it’s unbelievable in our dressing room,” says the former France youth international. “It’s so much fun.”
While Mbeumo’s attacking skills enhance Cameroon, their brightest talent lies in central midfield where Napoli’s André-Frank Zambo Anguissa has rediscovered the talent he apparently mislaid during an earlier stint with Fulham.
Part of his brief is to help create goals for Karl Brilliant Toko Ekambi who, despite operating mainly wide on the left, has scored 38 goals in 108 games for Lyon and also registered five at this year’s African Cup of nations.
Tellingly Mbeumo was recruited over dinner in London by Samuel Eto’o who had flown in specially from his Central African home where, as head of Cameroon’s football federation, the former Barcelona, Internazionale, Chelsea and Everton striker is now Song’s boss.
“We go to Qatar to win the World Cup,” says Eto’o, undaunted by Cameroon’s record of having only once progressed from the tournament’s group stage (at Italia 90 when they lost a quarter-final to Sir Bobby Robson’s England in extra time). “The other teams don’t have the same magic as us.”
Although Cameroon qualified for Qatar only by the skin of their teeth, narrowly beating Algeria in a play-off, Eto’o has ramped up by the pressure on Song by suggesting an all African final is possible. “We haven’t always shown our best face at World Cups,” says a man rumoured to sometimes succumb to the temptation to interfere in the manager’s squad selections. “But now African teams are ready. Cameroon will win the final against Morocco.”
At leat Song seems fully on message. “We’re on a mission,” he said on Wednesday. “And we know how to win.”
The biggest World Cup upset up to that point in the competition’s history and one so shocking that some newspapers assumed the wire report of a 1-0 final score was a typo and so instead reported that England had won 10-0. That is a myth, apparently, but nobody could blame editors at the time for not believing the turn of events in Belo Horizonte. An England team featuring players such as Billy Wright, Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen were meant to wipe the floor with an American side made up largely of amateurs and who had arrived in Brazil having trained for only a week together. Even their own manager, Bill Jeffrey, described them as “‘sheep ready to be slaughtered” but in their second group game they performed like lions, taking the lead through a 38th-minute header from Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian-born dishwasher from New York, and holding on during a second-half onslaught from England to complete the so-called “Miracle on Grass”.
2) Italy 0 North Korea 1, England 1966
It’s hard to think of North Korea as plucky little underdogs but that was very much the case on a July evening at Ayresome Park as a nation featuring at the World Cup finals tournament for a first time came up against the two-time winners of the competition. According to most, North Korea stood no chance of prevailing, especially given they went into what was the final round of fixtures in Group 4 having lost 3-0 against the Soviet Union and drawn 1-1 with Chile. Italy had beaten Chile 2-0 but then lost 1-0 against the Soviet Union so were vulnerable, but they should have breezed to victory in Middlesbrough. Instead, however, they were undone just before half-time via a low shot from a little-known midfielder who is now part of pub quiz folklore: Pak Doo-ik. “The North Koreans take the lead – what a sensation!” the BBC commentator Frank Bough roared, and it really was. That North Korea held on and qualified for the quarter-finals at Italy’s expense made it even more so.
3) Argentina 1 Saudi Arabia 2, Qatar 2022
The latest World Cup may be a regrettable one but it has already produced one of the greatest upsets in the competition’s history. Saudi Arabia arrived at the Lusail Stadium ranked 51st in the world – a place below Qatar – and found themselves coming up against a team unbeaten in 36 matches, a run during which they have also become Copa América champions. They also had a certain Lionel Messi in their ranks. Argentina should have won with ease but instead were undone through a combination of their own sluggishness and a display of great togetherness and ambition by their opponents. Crucially, Hervé Renard’s men also had a cutting edge, cancelling out Messi’s 10th-minute penalty via two well-taken second-half goals, scored by Saleh al-Shehri and Salem al-Dawsari. Argentina reacted with increased intensity but Saudi Arabia stood firm and, eventually, were able to celebrate a result of genuine shock and awe.
4) Argentina 0 Cameroon 1, Italy 1990
As difficult as it is for football fans in their forties to accept, Italia ‘90 was not a good World Cup. What is for sure, however, is that it started with an almighty bang. Cameroon arrived at the tournament with little pedigree or form and with a squad largely made up of journeymen from France’s second division who were constantly at each other’s throats. They were in a wretched state going into the opening game in Milan and were fully expected to be hammered by the holders, who just so happened to be captained by the best player on the planet in Diego Maradona. Ultimately, however, neither he or anyone else in blue and white could pierce the wall of African defiance in front of them and were left stunned after François Omam-Biyik’s header squirted through the grasp of goalkeeper Nery Pumpido on 67 minutes. It would prove to be the winning goal and lives on as one of the most iconic, and vivid, moments in World Cup history.
5) France o Senegal 1, Korea & Japan 2002
Another opening game that saw a team from Africa kick things off in spectacular style. Appearing at their first World Cup, Senegal should have stood no chance against not only the holders but also reigning European champions. France were imperious and even without the injured Zinedine Zidane were expected to win with ease on a late May night in Seoul. But instead they were overwhelmed by positive, skilful and determined opponents largely made up of players from the middle-ranks of France’s domestic leagues. Lens’ El Hadji Diouf was Senegal’s tormentor-in-chief and it was he would assist what would prove to be the winning goal, driving down the left-wing on 30 minutes and delivering a low cross that Papa Bouba Diop put past Fabian Barthez at the second attempt. “We have achieved something extraordinary,” said Diouf afterwards. He was not wrong.
6) Bulgaria 2 Germany 1, USA 1994
Upsets in the group stages are one thing; upsets in the knockout stages, when the bigger and better teams should well and truly be in their stride, is another. That, in part, is what makes Bulgaria’s victory over Germany in the quarter-finals of the 1994 tournament so legendary; it simply should not have happened, despite the fact Bulgaria had been performing well in the United States and contained a handful of highly talented players, no one more so than Hristo Stoichkov. Germany were the holders and this was the sharp end of proceedings; they were going to do what they so often do – win. Instead, however, they were stunned on a hot July afternoon in New Jersey as Bulgaria cancelled out a 47th-minute penalty from Lothar Matthäus via goals from Stoichkov and Yordan Letchkov, the latter remaining the greatest diving header by a balding player ever seen at a World Cup.
“I can play a lot of different styles,” said Morocco’s coach, Walid Regragui, this month. “I admire Guardiola, Simeone and Ancelotti, but I also have my own style which allows me to adapt the team according to the qualities of the players available.”
Regragui, a former defender born in France to parents from Fnideq in northern Morocco, spent three years playing in Spain and won 45 caps for Morocco but never appeared at a World Cup finals. Yet his appointment to replace the Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic at the end of August represented a significant moment in the history of African football.
His presence on the touchline in Qatar, along with that of his fellow former professionals Aliou Cissé of Senegal, Cameroon’s Rigobert Song and Ghana’s Otto Addo, and Tunisia’s ultra-experienced career coach Jalel Kadri, means that for the first time all of the continent’s representatives at the World Cup will have an African manager in the dugout. Fittingly, each is homegrown.
The 47-year-old Regragui deserves his opportunity having guided Wydad Casablanca to a surprise victory in the CAF Champions League final over the reigning champions Al Ahly in May after six successful years at FUS Rabat and having won the Qatari title with Al-Duhail in 2020. Regragui’s Champions League triumph saw him dubbed the “Moroccan Guardiola” by a Tunisian commentator but there is no doubting the former assistant to Rachid Taoussi is his own man after he recalled Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech from the international wilderness.
Whether he can follow in the footsteps of Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi, who became the first homegrown coach to lead an African side to the knockout stages in 2014, remains to be seen given their task in a difficult group containing Belgium, Croatia and Canada. Morocco will hope for a repeat of their breakthrough success under the Brazilian José Faria at the 1986 World Cup when they topped a group that included England before being eliminated in the last 16 by West Germany.
Until 2014, only 10 of 38 African teams at the World Cup were led by homegrown coaches, with the three sides who reached the quarter-finals – Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 – managed by Europeans.
The straight-talking Cissé, captain of Bruno Metsu’s team that shocked the reigning champions and Senegal’s former colonial masters France in the opening match in 2002, was one of two African home-grown coaches at the last World Cup in Russia and suffered the agony of seeing his team eliminated because of an inferior disciplinary record. Level on all other criteria with Japan, they went out.
Since then the Teranga Lions have developed a more ruthless streak and were crowned African champions for the first time in February, even if their chances of making a real impression in this tournament have been hit by Sadio Mané’s absence through injury.
“I represent a new generation that would like to have its place in African and world football,” said Cissé, a former Birmingham and Portsmouth midfielder, four years ago. “We need African coaches for our football to go ahead.”
Cissé has been in charge of Senegal since 2015 but has worked with many of the same players for almost a decade after starting as an assistant to the Under-23s. Song, who won 137 caps and played at four World Cups, also has some experience at the helm having served as Cameroon’s caretaker manager for an extended period in 2017 before returning in February after the Africa Cup of Nations.
The 46-year-old’s presence in Qatar is all the more remarkable given that six years ago he suffered a cerebral attack and was in a coma for two days. Emulating his 1994 mentor Léonard Nséké and becoming the second Cameroonian to qualify for the World Cup as a coach was a huge endorsement of his credentials.
For Addo the opportunity to manage Ghana after their group-stage exit at Afcon under Milovan Rajevac, their coaching hero of 2010, came as something of a surprise. Born in Germany, he played for Borussia Dortmund at the time he won most of his 15 Ghana caps and the 47-year-old’s day job is still as talent coach for the club’s rising stars – a role that has included working closely with England’s Jude Bellingham.
Having stepped up from being Rajevac’s assistant, Addo masterminded a famous victory over Nigeria to qualify and has his sights on a revenge mission against Luis Suárez’s Uruguay in Group H. Suárez’s goalline handball in 2010 denied Ghana likely passage to the semi-finals.
Of all the African managers heading to Qatar, Tunisia’s Kadri has the most experience. The 50-year-old began his coaching career in 2002 and spent time as assistant to Nabil Maâloul with the national team in 2013 before returning to the role under Mondher Kebaier last year. Kadri was promoted when Kebaier contracted Covid during Afcon and landed the job permanently after their victory over Nigeria.
Tunisia became the first African team to win a match at the World Cup in 1978, under their homegrown coach Abdelmajid Chetali, but have never reached the knockout stages and may find it tough to progress from a group with France, Denmark and Australia.
All five of Africa’s representatives failed to qualify from the group stages in Russia – the first time since 1982 that none had made it through. But as the Confederation of African Football said this month, the presence of five African coaches in Qatar “represents a giant step towards the development of African football”.
This article is part of the Guardian’s World Cup 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 20 November.
This will be Cameroon’s eighth appearance at a World Cup and they go to Qatar keen to make an impression. Rigobert Song’s side booked their ticket for the showpiece event by edging out the Desert Foxes of Algeria in the playoffs to become one of Africa’s five representatives at the tournament.
Results in 2022 have been mixed but Song was hoping to shape the team’s fortunes during a training camp in Yaoundé for players from the domestic league with the best of those joining the members of the squad playing in Europe. Back home expectations are high.
“We go to Qatar to win the World Cup,” Samuel Eto’o, who played at four World Cups and now is the head of the Cameroonian Football Federation, told the players in the dressing room after the decider against Algeria in March. “We enter each match to win. The others don’t have the same magic as we do.”
Eto’o’s lofty Qatar ambitions are gaining popularity back at home. Being a man who achieved the unthinkable during his playing days, it is understandable that Cameroonians are joining his ambitions.
Cameroon line up in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation under Song. They arrive in Qatar having been boosted by the announcement by Brentford’s Bryan Mbeumo that he would represent the Indomitable Lions instead of France, a decision that sparked wild celebrations back in Cameroon.
Mbeumo is only one of several players who are part of what is now called the “Eto’o project” – getting players with dual nationality play for Cameroon. Others are the former Tottenham winger Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, who is now with Besiktas, and France-based defender Christopher Wooh (Rennes). With the former Watford sweeper Nicolas Nkoulou having ended a self-imposed five-year exile from the national team it easy to see why expectations are high.
He’s the man whose face is on the majority of billboards in Cameroon. Rigobert Song has earned rock-star status in the central African nation down the years. But then he has some pedigree. He is the nation’s most capped player of all time, who played at four World Cups and is only the second Cameroonian to qualify his country for the World Cup as a coach after Léonard Nséké in 1994. The 46-year-old, who took over from the Portuguese coach Antonio Conceição in February, is not the most flamboyant tactician but through his mental strength and combative character, he has developed a group of players and made them into a much more hard-working unit.
It may come as a bit of a surprise to regular Fulham watchers but André-Frank Zambo Anguissa is having a mesmerisingly good season with Napoli under Luciano Spalletti. Zambo Anguissa joined Fulham from Marseille in 2018 but struggled to impose himself as the club were relegated. Loan spells followed before a permanent transfer to Napoli this summer. For Cameroon he is a hugely important central midfielder who has five goals and four assists in 42 caps going into the tournament. If he can replicate his club form on the international scene as well as he did in the only other Fifa tournament he has played in (the 2017 Confederations Cup) then he can propel Cameroon to another level in Qatar.
Karl Brilliant Toko Ekambi is 30 now but his importance to Cameroon has perhaps never been greater. He is one of the top scorers for the team this year, netting five goals at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, not to mention the thrilling late effort against Algeria that secured progress to the World Cup. He has rarely got the recognition he deserves but has worked his way to the top, arriving at Lyon after spells with Sochaux, Angers and Villarreal. Operating has a left winger, he has 38 goals in 108 games for Lyon.
As in the other African countries who have qualified for Qatar, the issues of migrant workers’ rights and human rights have not been commented on by players, coaching staff or the people in charge at the Cameroonian Football Federation. Neither has the media spoken out. Cameroon is not paying attention to issues like these. And with Eto’o one of the ambassadors for the 2022 World Cup, that is perhaps no surprise.
O Cameroon, Cradle of our Forefathers is known worldwide as the Rallying Song and symbolises the dreams and aspirations of Cameroonians as citizens of an independent republic. It also talks about the sacrifices of the nation’s forefathers. It was composed in 1928 by René Djam Afame, who cowrote the lyrics with Samuel Minkio Bamba and Moïse Nyatte Nko’o. At the start of the 1960s an English version was written by Bernard Nsokika Fonlon and it was officially adopted in 1978.
All-time cult heroes
Making a decision between Samuel Eto’o and Roger Milla on the aspect of the most celebrated Cameroonian footballer of all time is a very tough ask indeed. Both players achieved a lot. Eto’o’s 56 goals is a record for the Indomitable Lions while Milla is the highest scorer at World Cups with five, and is still the oldest player to have scored at the tournament. He was the leading light, at the age of 38, when he took Cameroon to the quarter-finals of Italia 90, one of only three times an African country have got that far. Eto’o, it is fair to say, is the most celebrated Cameroonian footballer of all time because of his club career.
Angu Lesley N Akonwi writes for Kick442. Follow him here on Twitter.