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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
1990 : Milla reigns supreme
Roger Milla in 1990
Milla's goals helped Cameroon into the last eight

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After an impressive debut at the 1982 World Cup, drawing against Peru, Poland and Italy, Cameroon reappeared at Italia 90.

Few expected the central Africans to upset the formbook and no one expected a 38-year-old player to steal the limelight.

But Roger Milla had a date to keep with destiny.

More than a decade after his exploits in Italy, the oldest goalscorer in World Cup history is still coming to terms with global fame.

Roger Milla in a charity match with Algerian Rabah Madjer
Milla celebrated his 50th birthday in May

"I never thought I would be as famous as this. But it is God that has made it possible for me, so I have to accept it," Milla told BBC Sport Online.

But the pendulum of fate could have swung in a totally different direction.

Milla's inclusion in the 1990 squad only came after Paul Biya, Cameroon's President, insisted that he be included.

It was a decision that did not go down well with many of his team mates.

But Milla's four goals in Italy forced his critics to eat their words.

Envy

"If you talk to my colleagues now, they will admit that they were not being fair to me," Milla insisted.

"They knew that if I played for the national team in 1990, I would use my power and experience to help Cameroon win games."

Paul Biya,  President of Cameroon
Biya ordered Milla'a inclusion in the 1990 sqaud

Before the finals, Milla had retired from international football after winning his second African Nations Cup title in 1988.

But he had lost none of his skills in the intervening years.

"I played in a game in honour of Theophile Abega, my old team-mate.

"Some Cameroonians who watched me play said they would love to see me back in the national team," Milla said.

Shock victory

When the Indomitable Lions faced Argentina, the defending champions, in the opening match in Milan, no one gave Cameroon a chance of winning.

But Francois Omam Biyik's 67th minute goal gave African football a victory to remember.

"Before the opening match, our opponents were laughing at us. They never thought that we could win.

"It was a great feeling to beat the world champions."

Milla scored two goals in the subsequent match against Romania, which guaranteed their passage to the next round.

Crossing frontiers

By reaching the next stage, the Indomitable Lions equalled the performance of Morocco in 1986.

But the glory seeking Cameroonians were not content with matching previous records.

Cameroonian fans
Milla remains popular with Cameroonian fans

Their 2-1 win over Columbia made them the first African team to reach the last eight.

Losing 3-2 to England in the quarter-finals remains Milla's biggest career disappointment.

"We had the means to win that match and qualify for the final.

"If the referee had not given those two penalties to England, I am sure that we would have made it."

New challenges

But Milla was not ready to quit the world stage after his Indian summer in Italy.

Aged 42, Milla broke his own record and scored the Indomitable Lions lone goal against Russia at USA '94.

Roger Milla won the African footballer of the year award in 1976 and 1990
Milla says his World Cup record will not be broken

"With that, I am sure that no player will equal my World Cup achievements," he said convincingly.

Recently selected as Africa's player of the 20th century, Milla is confident that Cameroon's football future remains bright.

"Players like Samuel Eto'o, Etame Mayer and Patrick Mboma have done a good job of maintaining the standards that we set in our time."

But eclipsing the individual achievements of Africa's first global superstar would be a tall order for his country's new generation of players.

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