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Cameroon 1990

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


In terms of the general quality of football played, Italia 90 was a big disappointment. But the tournament marked a watershed in the global development of football. Ben Lyttleton looks at the emergence of the African continent on the international football scene, and in particular, Cameroon’s brilliant performance in 1990.
From Tunisia in 1978, African football had been coming on, but it was in 1990 that it arrived. Cameroon, an ebullient side in a competition of tactical sterility, beat the champions Argentina in the opening game, saw off Colombia to reach the quarter-finals and almost dumped out England in an epic game in Naples.
Roger Milla, who scored against Romania and Colombia, was the first African footballer to become a household name. He said: “The whole of the Third World supported Cameroon. Before then, when Africans arrived in Europe, they were taken for monkeys. The racism has disappeared, but it was there in the 1970s. I was told to go and look for bananas in the forest.”
The claims of African football for greater recognition were vindicated by Cameroon’s achievement. Also enhanced was the standing of Issa Hayatou, the Cameroonian elected president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) two years earlier.
As a spectator culture emerged in Africa, football became a focus for nationalism, and after the great independence movements of the 1950s, the game became a means of asserting national identity within a global framework.
But Fifa remained unconvinced, and their refusal to grant Caf a guaranteed place in the 1966 World Cup led to their boycott of the tournament.
When Fifa’s Brazilian president Joao Havelange extended the World Cup to 24 teams in 1982, Africa received only two places, and even then many were unhappy.
But in Spain 82, Algeria beat West Germany and Cameroon finished unbeaten, preparing the ground for their landmark performance in 1990.
Their success also alerted European clubs to the potential in Africa, and, as football entered the boom years of the 1990s, paved the way for the mass migration of African players to Europe.
Some factors - like a lack of transfer market regulation, the size of the exodus, and an underdeveloped infrastructure - continue to hinder development. But after 1990, nobody could ever again fail to take African football seriously.


Ben Lyttleton, June 2003

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