Portugal and Cameroon go down in U-17 history
Ratina stadium in Tampere witnessed one of the greatest matches in the history of the FIFA U-17 World Championship. The ultimate game of two halves saw a superlative Portugal race into a 5-0 lead, only to be pegged back by an African side visibly stung by the turn of events. Played in a true spirit of fair-play, this classic had everything; a stupendous goal from inside his own half by Vieira de Freitas, a quickfire hat-trick by Manuel Curto and a stunning finish by Serge Ngal. Portugal are through by the skin of their teeth to face Spain here in the quarter-finals on 24 August.
Cameroon needed to win to qualify and naturally looked to Joseph Mawaye for goals. The Dreams FC Douala centre-forward had scored twice in two games thus far and he troubled Mario Felgueiras twice early on before Portugal seized the initiative with a stroke of pure genius.
FC Porto’s Vieira de Freitas intercepted the ball inside his own half, took three steps and struck a breathtaking lob from inside his own centre circle. The crowd held its breath and watched in amazement as the ball flew in a perfect arc over the despairing grasp of Cameroon keeper Luc Kalapach, who could only leap back into his goal after the ball. Given that Ratina stadium is 105 metres long, it is not unreasonable to suggest the ball travelled 60 metres before finding the net! A Portuguese Pele is born, and the goal of the tournament is virtually unbeatable (1-0, 21’).
“It’s the greatest goal I’ve ever scored,” admitted a beaming Vieira after the match. “I’ve often tried it, but never pulled it off.” The two coaches confessed they had never seen a strike like it in a match, and Antonio Violante was moved to describe his young prodigy in the following glowing terms: “He’s an exceptionally talented boy, who sees things other players don’t see.”
In any case, Vieira de Freitas’ wonder effort certainly opened the floodgates for his team-mate Manuel Curto. The Benfica striker had already had a goal disallowed (15’) before embarking on an eight-minute goal spree. Paulo Machado set him up for his first (2-0, 36’), the ball came back off the crossbar for his second (3-0, 43’) and a Cameroon defence in disarray let him in for his third (4-0, 44’).
Alexandre Song had been moved into a holding midfield position by coach Anatole Abee, and when the teams returned after the break Rigobert Song's younger brother was no longer on the pitch as Abee opted to throw another striker into the frey in the shape of Serge Ngal. "It's a real pity that we let in four goals because later we showed what we are capable of," said the African coach. "But I got mad at half time and told them I would haul anyone off who wasn't pulling his weight. It was time to stand up and be counted."
Things got worse before they got better for the Africans when Machado broke through on the left. Kalapach parried Manuel Curto’s shot but Bruno Gama was on hand to finish (5-0, 52’).
With seemingly not a hope left in the world, Ngal got busy restoring some honour. Though his first effort was saved (68’), he consistently proved an inspiration to his team-mates and Cameroon at last pulled one back when Tiago Costa scored past his own keeper (5-1, 70’).
Mario Felgueiras was then beaten a second time when Ngal hammered a precise volley past him (5-2, 74’) and conceded a third when Ngal again found the net with a delightful chip (5-3, 76’). With time running out, Mawaye crossed and Joel Nguemo reduced the deficit even further (5-4, 88’).
Little by little, the Africans had won over the Ratina crowd, originally spellbound by the sublimely talented Lusitanians. Cameroon were being urged on to achieve the impossible. They pulled level when the referee awarded them a free kick inside the area after the Portuguese stopper picked up a back pass. With the Portuguese lined up in a wall along their own goal-line, the Cameroonians cleverly pulled the ball several metres back and across goal for Etoundi Mbia to ram in a volley past the eleven Europeans. Cameroon were now just a goal away from the second round. (5-5. 92’)!
It was a case of so much too late though, and as the final whistle rang out the crestfallen Africans threw themselves to the ground. In a wonderful moment of spontaneous and heartfelt sportsmanship, their opponents hauled them up back onto their feet. That show of respect for their tremendous courage was a fitting end to a magnificent game.