On 8th June 1990, Diego Maradona and his Argentina side friends began their FIFA World Cup defence against simple Cameroon. What trailed, as we reflect 30 years on, was the start of one of the World Cup’s finest stories. The biggest ever upsets in football greatest event’s history as defending title-holders Argentina fell to a surprise 1-0 defeat to Cameroon in the opening game of Italia 1990.
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Between 1974 and 2002, every Football World Cup opened with a game containing the ruling champions and Argentina’s fall, courtesy of a patent goalkeeping error by Nery Pumpido, continued an incredible trend where each time since that setup change, the containers failed to open their title defence with a win.
Under the management of their coach Valery Nepomnyashchy, Cameroon followed their opening win with another win over a strong Romanian team, presenting the likes of Gheorghe Hagi, Florin Raducioiu and Giga Popescu, a result which meant they surpassed their group despite a heavy defeat in their last game against the Soviet Union.
After thrashing Colombia in the last 16, with a bit of help from Rene Higuita, the Cameroon football team became the first-ever African team to reach the quarter-finals of a FIFA World Cup, setting up a bang with England football team who were looking to lock a place in the last four for the first time since 1966.
Using data from the Statistics Performs Football World Cup library, we take a closer look at the underlying numbers behind Cameroon’s Italia 1990 routines, containing a centre forward adept at creating chances for others, full-backs answerable for getting the ball forward and maybe the most powerful super-sub in the history of the tournament.
Francois Omam-Biyik surprises Maradona & co
Before we get onto the trials of that opening night in Milan, it is worth memorising how tough it was in the early 90s for an African nation to reach the Football World Cup Finals. With only two places accessible, Cameroon, who started the qualification drive as ruling African Cup of Nations champions, had to finish top of a qualification group holding Nigeria, Angola and Gabon just to progress to a two-legged play-off with another group winner for a chance to secure one of Africa’s seats.
Sitting second in their group with a game to go, they had to tired Nigeria to make the final phase, which they did courtesy of a goal from Francois Omam-Biyik. The later play-off turned out to be a more relaxed issue, with Omam-Biyik again between the scorekeepers in a 3-0 total victory over Tunisia. As the focal point of the dose, Omam-Biyik’s all-around play is often ignored as a result of the feats of Roger Milla.
As well as position the most shots per 90 (3.7) and the highest non-penalty predictable goals output in Cameroon’s team, the then 24-year-old also graded in the top 10 for total gambles created during the FIFA World Cup. This graded him second behind Maradona for odds created by players whilst playing in the centre forward position. Not bad for a player who at the time was working his trade in the second tier of French football.
Omam-Biyik counted that winning goal in the win over Argentina, with a header that went straight through Pumpido. Despite his skill to find high-quality sites, that curved out to be his only goal of the FIFA World Cup. However, he carried more to his squad than just offering a goalscoring outlet. For more to know about Football World Cup Tickets Click here.
Rolling the ball forward through the full-backs
When we look closer into Cameroon’s general approach to possession during the competition, it is noteworthy that Omam-Biyik, who classically occupied the half-space in central areas to link-up play, received significantly more passes from right-back Stephen Tataw than from any other World Cup player during the competition.
According to the Stats Perform Order Framework, Cameroon exploited the right-hand side of the pitch more than any squad other than Costa Rica, with their average order width from the right-hand touchline being 32.5 metres, linked to the competition average of 33.9. Associated with the other nations who reached the quarter-finals, they were pretty direct.
Despite the Cameroon centre backs being fairly happy to pass sideways or back to the keeper inside their half, only Argentina and Czechoslovakia were more direct in getting the ball forward quickly. Cameroon Football World Cup team also noted a large volume of orders comprising of just one or two passes only Ireland noted a higher per 90 volumes amongst the sides to make the last eight.
Operating as a sweeper at the back, Emmanuel Kunde tried more passes per 90 than any other player in the Cameroon football team (51), but less than a quarter of them finished in the opposition half. Also, neither of their regular centre backs, Jules Onana and Victor N’Dip, looked to move the ball beyond the central line. Between them, they only played a joint of 14.6 passes per 90 into the violent half.
As a result, it was left to their full-backs to progress the ball into offensive areas. Down the right, Stephen Tataw played 8.6 passes into the attacking third, with left-back Bertin Ebwelle making 8.1, grading them first and second in the Cameroon Football World Cup team. Of the two, Tataw enjoyed a better victory rate (53% vs 48%).
Unlike today’s modern-day full-backs who look to enter the final third, both players looked to support play from deep areas, guaranteeing they were not exposed protectively. As shown by their heat maps below, their circulation into advanced areas tended to focus on playing the ball down the line, into wide midfielders, or diagonally into Omam-Biyik. They hardly swapped play.
Despite their use of full-backs to progress the ball, they were not a squad who were prolific at crossing in open play, trying only 10.3 per 90, compared to the competition average of 13.7. Nearly half of their crosses were delivered by the same player, Louis-Paul M’Fede, from the left-hand side of midfield and their total chances created from crosses, 1.2 per 90, was the second-lowest of all the sides in the FIFA World Cup.
Enter the wonderful stand-in
Although the winning goal against Argentina came through a degree of good prosperity, the overall game stats confirmed that Cameroon’s conquest was well deserved. They limited the Football World Cup winners to just two shots on target, whilst creating a higher probable goals output (0.8 to Argentina’s 0.3), getting away an advanced number of shots in the box. When they came to face Romania in their second game, they were up against a squad that looked to keep control.
Trained by Emerich Jenei, the Romanians recorded the highest number of passes per order of any nation at the 1990 Football World Cup with 3.7 with the longest average order time of 12.1 seconds. After 55 minutes the game was stalemated a 0-0, but the Romanians had shaped the better-quality goal tries according to an analyst. However, at that point, their talismanic midfielder Hagi.
Just a few minutes later, Nepomnyashchy obvious to send on the expert striker, Roger Milla, a result which changed the game and kick-started one of the most talked-about levels of Italy 1990. Apart from a brief nine-minute cameo against Argentina, the striker’s only earlier Football World Cup experience, during Spain ’82, had been forgettable.
Milla, who at the time was playing his club football on the island of Reunion and had come out of global retirement to play in Italy, came on with the game finely composed to play behind Omam-Biyik. With 12 minutes of the game remaining, he outmuscled Ioan Andone in a duel following a long ball from Onana at the back, before calmly positioning the ball beyond an advancing keeper from just inside the box.
At 38 years and 19 days old, he became the oldest goal scorer in FIFA World Cup history and he marked the case with his now-iconic hip-shaking celebration at the corner flag. That celebration was seen again less than 10 minutes later, as he doubled their lead with a powerful left-foot shot, beating Silviu Lung at his near post. Despite Romania pulling a goal back, Cameroon held on to another win, which certain them a place in the knockout phases.
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