Roger Milla has long since hung up his boots, but the Herculean reputation he helped create for Cameroon lives on in the country’s current golden boy Patrick Mboma.
Milla went down in World Cup folklore at the 1990 World Cup when, at 38, he drove the ‘Indomitable Lions’ to the quarter-finals.
The colourful run of Milla and Co was only ended when they came up against Bobby Robson’s Paul Gascoigne-inspired England side.
And now Mboma, the 2000 African footballer of the year, will be bidding to leave his own unique mark on the World Cup for what may be his last chance.
Sunderland striker Mboma, 31, was a late starter on the international stage – he did not win his first cap until 1996 – but he has been the single most influential player of the team since. His goals helped Cameroon become the first team, bar hosts Japan and Korea and holders France, to qualify for the 2002 finals.
Despite their poor showing at the 1998 World Cup in France, where they failed to win a match, Cameroon are undoubtedly the most successful African nation, having qualified for soccer’s ultimate showpiece five times. World Cup 2002 will be their fourth successive visit to the finals. But for all their charm and occasional dashes of brilliance, a question mark remains over whether the Lions will ever repeat that 1990 showing.
Quite simply, has the world got wise to Cameroon? The key to their success will be the form of Mboma. The Douala-born bundle ofmuscle and power hit five goals in eight matches during Cameroon’s qualifying campaign, and is a feared frontman.
The launchpad for Mboma’s career came in 1997 when he left PSG to play in the J-League in Japan. It proved to be a great move for the big man who finished the league’s top scorer in his first season, netting 29 goals in 34 games and notched the J-League’s first hat-trick.
After the 1998 World Cup in France where he scored once in Cameroon’s three group matches, Mboma made a return to Europe with Cagliari in Italy.
He scored 15 goals in 40 games over the next two years and earned a move to Parma in the summer of 2000. That year proved the most successful of his career in international football terms.
Victory in the African Nations Cup was followed by Olympic gold in Sydney, and then Mboma received the crowning glory of being named African Footballer of the Year.
Comparisons with Milla are inevitable, but Mboma has refused to even entertain the idea.
‘It’s impossible to compare me with Milla. He achieved so much,’ says the modest Mboma, who only recently made his move to Wearside.
The dictionary says indomitable means ‘strong, brave, determined and difficult to defeat or make frightened’. And that is a portrayal which fits Mboma to a tee.
Copyright Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd, 2002.
Source: EVENING MAIL 20/05/2002 P42