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Almost twenty-one years after the Olympic title won against Spain (2-2, 5-3 on penalties), Patrick Mboma still seems surprised when he traces the course of the Indomitable Lions in Australia . At 29, he was the oldest Cameroonian international at the time. The International Football Federation (FIFA) allows each selection to choose three players over 23 years old.
Like his four compatriots Pierre Womé, Samuel Eto’o, Mayer Lauren and Geremi Njitap, the Parma (Italy) striker won the African Cup of Nations (CAN) in Nigeria six months earlier. The Olympic Games do not therefore appear to be a priority objective.
” At the beginning of 2000, we thought of the CAN, and the friendly match scheduled for October 4 against France, which was 1998 world champion and which would become European champion in July! So, the Olympics, we went there without any particular ambition, because we knew that there was stronger than us. I was a bit in tourist mode. I had also bought a digital camera, a tool that was still quite rare at the time ”, he remembers today.
The Cameroonians, placed in the first round in a group which also include the United States, Kuwait and the Czech Republic, are initially far from Sydney. They play their matches in Brisbane and Cambera, depriving them of the opening ceremony. ” We didn’t really feel like we were participating in the Olympics », Explains Patrick Mboma. The Lions, after beating Kuwait (3-2) and hanging on the Americans (1-1), qualify for the quarter-finals thanks to the draw (1-1) obtained against the unlucky Czechs.
But once the name of their opponent is known – Brazil – many are already predicting the end of the Australian adventure for the team coached by Jean-Paul Akono, the coach. ” For everyone, Brazil was the big favorite. I open the scoring, Brazil equalizes at the end of the match, and we play the extension nine against eleven, since two of our players, Geremi Njitap and Aaron Nguimbat, had been sent off: we say to ourselves that it is mission impossible . But Brazil is denied a goal that seems valid, and we win (2-1), thanks to the golden goal (113e) ”, Remembers Patrick Mboma. ” When Modeste Mbami scores, we didn’t even know we had just qualified, as our manager didn’t seem to be aware that the golden goal rule applied. He adds.
“Hamburgers and fries”
If they want to see Sydney and its Olympic village, Cameroonians know they must reach the final, and therefore eliminate Chile in the semi-final, in Melbourne. Akono decides to start goalkeeper Carlos Kameni, only 16 years old, but who exudes an astonishing maturity. Chile, who opened the scoring twelve minutes from time, completely lost control at the end of the match, allowing Patrick Mboma and then Lauren to send the Lions to the final against Spain on September 30.
” We then discovered the Olympic Village. The building we were in was fifty yards from a McDonald’s. Some players have pushed the burgers and fries a bit, which is not ideal before a final! », Adds, amused, the former striker.
On D-Day at the Olympic Stadium and in front of 114,000 spectators, the Cameroonians suffer martyrdom in the first half, overwhelmed by the liveliness of the Spaniards. At half-time, Spain leads 2-0 and the Lions locker room is won by gloom. Jean-Paul Akono seems resigned, but Patrick Mboma, as a good leader, remobilizes the troops. ” I said if Spain had scored twice, we could do it! “
And, in five minutes (53e and 58e), the Cameroonians come back to the score (2-2), thanks in particular to a goal from the young Samuel Eto’o, before winning during the penalty shootout (5-3) against opponents too sure of ‘them. ” We didn’t have the best team on paper, but there was this solidarity, we weren’t afraid of anything. And luck was with us », Admits Patrick Mboma.
The Lions will hardly have time to celebrate the first gold medal in Cameroon’s history. Several players take the first plane to Paris, where the country’s A selection is to face France on October 4 in Saint-Denis. Patrick Mboma himself will score against the Blues a goal that has become legendary (1-1). ” A few weeks later, we were invited to Yaoundé by President Paul Biya to celebrate the event. It lacked a bit of spontaneity, but we couldn’t get there earlier because of the resumption of the European championships. This gold medal has given us international recognition. “ And above all unexpected!
Summary of our series “These Africans who made the Olympics”