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Classic Matches

1990: Cameroon - England

01 July 1990: Cameroon - England 2-3 aet

At a tournament that was criticised for being excessively defensive, this was one game at Italia 90 that certainly had people on the edge of their seats. England, one of the favourites to lift the trophy, were not expected to struggle against surprise-package Cameroon, but the Indomitable Lions, the first African team to make a FIFA World CupTM quarter-final, had been high on adrenaline since the beginning of the finals.

With the evergreen Roger Milla (38) in unstoppable form in attack they made Gary Lineker and his team sweat right up until the final whistle. This is the story of an epic World Cup battle, played out in the humid heat of a Neapolitan summer's evening.

Prior to the tournament, nobody would have predicted a Cameroon v England quarter-final. The Africans had recorded a shock win over reigning world champions Argentina (1-0) in the opening match, though, and had since gone from strength to strength. Another great performance against Romania (2-1) had ensured their qualification from the group phase, and a further miracle win over Colombia (2-1) had sent them joyously into the quarter-finals. Their opponents, meanwhile, Gary Lineker's England, had just enjoyed a narrow escape in the second round against Belgium (1-0 aet), and were now dreaming of the semi-final place they had been denied by Argentina's Diego Maradona in 1986.

The San Paolo stadium in Naples had been kind to Cameroon in the last round. Would its blessing work wonders again a week later? Cameroon were certainly out of luck in other respects. Without the suspended André Kana, Emile Mbouh, Victor Ndip and Jules Onana, Russian coach Valeri Nepomniachi had to field a new line-up. The irresistible Milla, the bane of René Higuita's Columbia in the previous round, would start on the bench. In contrast, Bobby Robson's England were at full-strength, and Lineker and co. were raring to go.

Tense opening

The game struggled to settle into a rhythm. Both teams seemed to fear each other and Mexican referee Codesal Mendez's whistle was soon working overtime. It wasn't until England crafted their first move between Waddle, Barnes and Pearce (8') that the game showed signs of opening up. Louis Mfédé then played in François Omam for a one-on-one with Peter Shilton. The England keeper blocked Mfedé's first shot and was relieved to see his effort from the rebound go past his left-hand post (12'). These early sorties gave Cameroon the confidence to go on and dominate the game. Mfédé was everywhere and had two more chances in quick succession: one going over the bar (19') and the other turned around the right hand post by Shilton (21'). Still no breakthrough.

Platt - again

England were finally shaken into life and hit back with a rapid counter-attack on 25 minutes. Stuart Pearce tore down the left wing and delivered an inch-perfect cross to the far post, straight onto the head of David Platt, England's saviour against Belgium. Veteran keeper Thomas Nkono was helpless as Platt buried the chance. England's goal may have helped their fans to rediscover their voices but, on the bench, Robson remained unmoved.

Paul Gascoigne then threatened with one of his characteristic forward surges, but the Cameroon defence stood firm, and caught him in a copybook offside trap. Goalscoring chances were few and far between until half-time. Thomas Libiih had a rare opportunity, but his header failed to trouble Shilton (37'). Soon all eyes were on the running track, though, where Roger Milla, sporting a new-look shaven head, was warming up (40').

Milla, the trump card

Paul Parker was given the unenviable task of man-marking Milla when he entered the fray after half-time, much to the delight of the thousands of fans who had come to see the phenomenon from Yaoundé. The stadium roared with delight when the Cameroon striker had his first touch of the ball just outside Shilton's area (54'). It roared again when Lineker, who had been strangely quiet until then, shot over Nkono's goal (59'). The much-anticipated showdown had commenced between the two great strikers.

When Milla bore down on goal only to be brought down in the area, the referee did not hesitate to point to the penalty spot. Emmanuel Kunde duly converted to level the score on 61 minutes (1-1). By now, the crowd had adopted the Cameroon team as their own, and as the festival continued on the pitch the atmosphere in the stands was electric. Omam was next to surge towards goal, slipping the ball to Cyrille Makanaky, whose shot was deflected by an English shin onto the upright (63'). Robson's men barely had time to regroup before they were behind. Milla drifted past Gascoigne, Wright and Platt before sliding the ball to Eugène Ekéké, a half-time substitute. The Valenciennes striker had taken up a great position and beat Shilton with a delightful chip on 65 minutes (2-1). Cameroon were in dreamland.

England back from oblivion

With just a quarter of an hour remaining, English nerves were in tatters. The turning point came when Cameroon missed the chance that would have made the game safe. Omam was the culprit, failing to hit the target after a delightful one-two with Milla (82'), and he was immediately made to pay. The ball went up the other end and Lineker was brought down in the area by Benjamin Massing. The striker dusted himself down and made no mistake with the penalty 2-2 (83'). England had come back from the brink.

The Africans could not prevent the match from going to extra-time. Just as in normal time, the match was slow to get underway again. Cameroon were the first to launch themselves back into battle. Ekéké and Omam caused panic in front of Shilton's goal (93'), soon to be followed by another chance for the unstoppable Omam (95'), a Makanaky shot (97') and a Milla burst into England's area (100'). But it turned out England were just biding their time and choosing their moment to strike. Lineker was again the executioner. He raced onto a Gascoigne through ball, only to be sandwiched by Nkono and Massing in the area. Another penalty. Lineker held his nerve to make it 2-3 (105') with his third goal of the tournament. The previous World Cup's top scorer showed that he was still at the top of his game, and in doing so sent the England fans into raptures.

Lap of honour

The second-half of extra time passed off without major incident. Cameroon were now struggling with heavy legs, the legacy of their efforts against Colombia, and England played keep-ball to conserve their lead. At the final whistle, aware that they had come within minutes of making history, Milla and his team-mates found the energy to give the San Paolo stadium a memorable lap of honour. They could take heart in the knowledge that they had illuminated a tournament that would generally be remembered for defensive football.

England, on the other hand, could hardly believe they had booked a place in the semi-finals for the first time since 1966. Robson wiped away a tear of joy before preparing for another titanic confrontation in the semi-final against the old enemy - Germany.