Cameroon legend Roger Milla regrets they lost to England at Italia 90
ROGER Milla remains proud of Cameron’s Italia ’90 exploits and legacy – but the regrets of not beating England still linger.
Today marks exactly 30 years since Bobby Robson’s Three Lions came from behind to beat the Indomitable Lions 3-2 in Naples in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Gary Lineker’s two penalties ended Cameroon’s magnificent run – the first African nation to reach the last eight of a World Cup – but the memories of a dancing 38-year-old striker left an ever-lasting imprint.
Now 68, Milla spoke on email this week with SunSport in an exclusive interview about that heady summer and coming within seven minutes of knocking out England.
Milla said: “We knew that England had a great team with great players like Lineker but we didn’t fear any Englishmen.
“We were just trying to put our game in place. I think the penalties awarded were generous but that’s a thing of the past. We can’t rewrite history unfortunately.
“After the match, we had no regrets because we were the first African country to reach this stage of the competition. But today I have because I think there was room to do better.”
Thanks to that extra-time spot-kick winner, England moved on to the semi-finals – and we all know what happened next against West Germany.
Who knows how Cameroon would have fared against Franz Beckenbauer’s side at Turin’s Stadio delle Alpi.
Milla said: “It would have been crazy. An indescribable joy if we had won the quarter-final.
“I don’t even dare to imagine what it would have been like if we had gone further in the competition.
“I’ve the feeling we could have got to the final if we had beaten England. And in the final anything can happen.
“Yes, (what we did) makes me very proud. It shows that we have done something great.
“We’ve made an impression. Our performance allowed Africans to be taken seriously.
“Besides, I’m not the one saying it, but the many journalists, internet users and football connoisseurs around the world.”
Milla, whose pro career started in 1970, had played for celebrated clubs like Monaco, St Etienne and Montpellier but he had retired before that World Cup.
Yet he was encouraged in a phone call with Cameroonian president Paul Biya to play in the squad bound for Italy.
Milla was not physically ready for the tournament and came off the subs bench in all of the five matches.
He made a nine-minute cameo in the stunning 1-0 victory over world champions and Diego Maradona’s Argentina at Milan’s San Siro.
Four goals and flamboyantly dancing round the corner flag justified the decision to come out of retirement.
Nobody older than Milla has scored at a World Cup finals match, a record he extended to 42 years of age four years later on US soil
Asked how his memorable corner-flag celebration came about, Milla said: “Curiously, it was completely improvised.
“I don’t know what made me celebrate this way. It was kind of a way to thank all the supporters and those who’d supported me.”
Two of his goals came in the Last 16 2-1 win over Colombia, which is notable for when he robbed maverick goalkeeper Rene Higuita and slotted the winner into an empty net.
He said: “I didn’t expect him to make that kind of mistake.
“I had watched his matches with (Carlos) Valderrama when I was in Montpellier because French television broadcast the matches.
“My coaches Peter Schnittger and Claude Leroy always told me that I had to stay very close to the centre line and the goalkeeper.
“I tried to follow their instructions and the success was total against Higuita.
“Higuita is a very good friend of mine. We don’t talk to each other every day but we appreciate and respect each other. He recently welcomed me to Twitter.
“It’d be difficult to choose just one (memory) from that World Cup.
“I was so happy to be there. At the start, I didn’t even expect to play but as soon as the coach saw me in training, he told me that technically I was ready.
“But he said he couldn’t put me through the whole match because I wasn’t physically ready.
“I savoured all the moments spent during this competition.”
After eventually hanging up his boots in 1996, Milla worked as a coach and Director of football in France and Cameroon.
He added: “I live a quiet retirement while continuing to work.
“I’m a travelling ambassador to the Presidency of the Republic and I take care of my Heart of Africa Foundation.
“I want to be remembered as a special player. My legacy is already there through all the awards I’ve had in my career.”
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