Argentina v. Cameroon, opening game 1990
Before FIFA changed the qualification rules, the opening match of the finals always featured the previous champion. In 1990 in Italy, Cup holders Argentina were drawn against the un-fancied and relatively unknown Cameroon side. Africa had become known as a fertile treasure trove of talent, but with little to show from its national teams in world competition.
A swaggering Maradona, the Argentine legend, casually bounced the ball on his left shoulder as he trotted around before the kick-off. The Cameroon goal was quickly under assault, their goalie Nkono saving them twice, but Cameroon fought back and only a desperate clearance off the goal line saved Argentina.
Fifteen minutes into the second half Cameroon were down to ten men when Kana Biyik was red carded after his legs got tangled up with those of Italian forward Claudio Caniggia, ending his dazzling run down the right wing. It was now Argentina’s game to win, but eight minutes later a free kick from the left floated into the Argentine penalty area where Omam-Biyik rose to head it towards goal. What should have been an easy save was fumbled by Pumpido, the veteran Argentine keeper, and Cameroon were up 1-0.
Argentina piled on the pressure and with a few minutes left, Cameroon defender Massing was red carded for a vicious tackle leaving them to see out the match with nine men. Unbelievably, it was the upstart Africans who came closest to scoring in those final minutes in what continues to be one of the great World Cup upsets.
Both teams qualified out of the group. Cameroon went down a little unluckily to England in extra time of the quarter final, while Argentina lost a dull and ill- tempered final on a late penalty to West Germany. Since then, African teams
have improved to the point where, in this year’s competition, many are favored to go far on their home continent.