The Pride of Lions
Sixteen nations, 32 games and 102 goals - an average of over three per game - these were the vital statistics of the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Australia.
At the outset most punters tipped Olympic title-holders Nigeria to retain their crown, but in the end it was to be another African nation, the Indomitable Lions from Cameroon, who would take gold for the first time in their history.
Wily coach Jean-Paul Akono blended youth and experience to perfection, combining youngsters Geremi Njitap, Lauren Etame Mayer and Samuel Etoo with stalwarts like Patrick Mboma and Serge Mimpo. Add to that a tremendous will-to-win at all costs and Cameroon proved unstoppable. It was not all plain sailing however. In a shaky start, a tight victory over Kuwait (3-2) was followed by two lacklustre draws with the Czech Republic and the USA. The best was still to come.
The Lions caused a sensation in the quarter-finals when they ousted Wanderley Luxemburgo's Brazil. The match ended 1-1, with Mboma getting on the scoresheet for the Africans and Ronaldinho equalising in stoppage time after a defensive mix-up. In extra-time it was left to the unassuming Mbami to come off the bench and bag a golden goal that has made him a hero on the African continent to this very day. History was being made.
Cameroon's semi-final match against Chile got off to the worst possible start when Patrice Abanda put one past his own keeper. But the Lions roared back to pull level thanks to another goal from skipper Mboma before Lauren Etame Mayer converted a spot kick in the dying seconds. The Indomitable Lions were in the Final.
The 104,098 lucky spectators who crammed into the Olympic stadium in Sydney for the Final between Spain and Cameroon saw a match most would qualify as unforgettable. Xavi got the ball rolling for Spain after two minutes when he slotted home a free kick (0-1). Angulo could have made it two just twenty seconds later, but his penalty was saved by Idriss Carlos Kameni. The Iberians did go two up, though, just before the interval when Gabri got on the scoresheet (0-2). These African Lions are not called "Indomitable" for nothing though, and helped along by an Amaya own goal (1-2), they pulled level thanks to Etoo (2-2). The sendings-off of Gabri and José Mari put Cameroon in the driving seat, but Spain hung on and kept the Lions at bay right to the end of extra-time. The name of the Olympic champions would be decided on penalties! While the Africans converted all their penalties, the hapless Amaya's shot hit the upright, giving Cameroon victory and a position on the top step of the podium for the first time in Olympic history.
The other surprise of this Olympic tournament came from Chile who, led by their magnificent striker Ivan Zamorano (top goalscorer with six goals), picked up the bronze medal. The US came in an honourable fourth, while the Brazilians had to console themselves with the Fair Play trophy.