Stage set for a San Siro shock
Cameroon's keeper was dropped after claiming they had 'no chance'
'I don't believe in miaracles,' said Francois Omam-Biyick
The forward then created one against Maradona and Co
With the 1990 FIFA World Cup just minutes from kicking off, this Cameroon supporter looks to be a lone figure. He would certainly have arrived at Milan’s gleaming, newly renovated San Siro in hope rather than expectation, knowing that his team – comprised largely of little-known journeymen – were about to face the world champions, and the great Diego Maradona.
Even Cameroon’s own players seemed to accept the outcome as a foregone conclusion, with striker Francois Omam-Biyick – one of several then plying his trade in France’s lower divisions – striking a downbeat pre-match tone. “The gap between the two teams is too big to breach,” he said. “I don’t believe in miracles.”
Goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell had been gloomier still, and was dropped after claiming in a newspaper interview that his team had "no chance of coping with Argentina, or any other team" and would "go out in the first round without much glory".
Nothing, of course, could have been further from the truth. It would, in fact, be Omam-Biyik – the man who did not believe in miracles – who emerged as the Africans’ unlikely match-winner, while the flag-bearing supporter in this image proved not to be as isolated as he might have expected.
After all, while Argentina’s No10 was the player whom most had come to see, not all inside the San Siro had arrived ready to shower him with adulation. Maradona’s Napoli had, after all, just pipped AC Milan to the Scudetto, and he would reflect later that his presence resulted in “the whole stadium shouting for Cameroon”.
Argentina’s 1-0 defeat still ranks as one of the tournament’s greatest upsets, and was described by Carlos Bilardo as "the worst moment of my sporting career". Indeed, while the Albiceleste coach would go on to lead his side to another Final in Italy, he well remembers the consequences of losing that opening match to unfancied Cameroon. "Everyone called me to tell me what to do," Bilardo recalled. "I heard from the president (Carlos Menem), two former presidents and the opposition leader."
But while politicians and pundits grumbled about Bilardo’s team selection and the Cameroonians’ physical approach, Argentina’s star man proved gracious in defeat. "I don't think they had any intentions of beating us up to win the game," Maradona said. "I cannot argue and I cannot make excuses. If Cameroon won, it was because they were the best side."
Not that the Indomitable Lions were likely to become carried away by slaying such a formidable giant. “Don't take us for heroes,” defender Stephen Tataw said afterwards. “We are a little team with little means. I still don’t expect us to make the second round.”
Fortunately, Cameroon would keep on exceeding their own modest expectations, breaking new ground for Africa and winning neutrals’ hearts in the process. And while Omam-Biyik would never score another goal as important as the header that sunk Argentina in the San Siro, he hesitated when asked if it was the greatest moment of his career.
"It was one of them," he replied. "But the best 'moment', if I can stretch the definition of the word, was the whole of that wonderful time we spent in Italy.”