How Sir Bobby managed to trick the Cameroon team at Italia ‘90
The indomitable lions were the undisputed surprise package of Italia ‘90.
The African nation of Cameroon had only qualified for the World Cup once before, in Spain eight years previously, and managed three draws, scoring just one goal before heading home after the first round.
No one gave them a chance in their opening game in the San Siro against a star-studded Argentina side; the World Cup holders following their exploits four years before in Mexico, and boasting the world’s best player: Diego Maradona.
But they upset all the odds, and even overcame the sending-off of not one, but two players, to triumph 1-0 thanks to a solitary goal from François Omam-Biyik.
By the time they reached the quarter-finals, to play England, they’d become everyone’s second team, with the 38-year-old Roger Milla their breakout star, having scored twice against Romania in a group game, before notching another brace against Columbia (one courtesy of an horrendous error by Rene Higuita), all celebrated by the famous Milla wiggle by the corner flag.
Nonetheless, no one gave them a prayer against England - but once again they were to surprise everyone, as they ran England close before eventually bowing out, having been seven minutes away from knocking England out.
At that point, they were 2-1 up, two goals in five second half minutes from Kundé and Ekéké overturning an early lead provided by Platt.
But then: Gary Lineker brought down for a penalty. Would he score? The pressure was immense.
But it turned out that Lineker knew exactly what to do.
Transcripts of the full interviews conducted for the new documentary Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager and seen exclusively by ShortList, reveal a fascinating story told by Gary Lineker.
“I was penalty taker for England for four years. Never had one - not one penalty! I had a kind of method that I practised, the penalty that I would take in the game… In training I would hit thirty to forty penalties every day and I would hit the penalty that I thought I would take in the match.
“And the day before the Cameroon game, the quarter-final of the World Cup, Bobby came up to me and he said: ‘I’ve got wind there is a Cameroonian spy in here watching our training, so you might want to think about your penalty practice’.
“So I hit ten penalties, all to the keeper’s right, every single one of them.
“We are 2-1 down in the game, there’s eight minutes to go - I get kicked: penalty.
“Right here we go… so I put in on the spot…
“I hit it sweet as a nut and as I looked up I could see the keeper going low to his right, which was the most beautiful sight, I can tell you, when you hit a penalty.
“And at the end of the game, he came up to me and he went “I told you, I told you!” Classic Bobby!”
Of course, it wasn’t over then - with the game locked at 2-2 after 90 minutes, off they went into extra-time and, in the 108th minute: another penalty, as Lineker is brought down by the onrushing Thomas N’Kono after a beautiful through-ball from Gazza.
This time, perhaps suspecting that N’Kono would try to either stick to the same side as before, or double-bluff and twist to the other, Lineker simply blasted it down the middle, converting once more as the keeper opted for the latter.
England hung on to triumph 3-2 and progress to a semi-final showdown against West Germany with Bobby Robson agonisingly close to masterminding a win, but Cameroon went out with their heads held high, lauded as one of the best teams of the tournament.
As Lineker said years later, referring to the semi-final penalty defeat, “We were within a whisker of a World Cup final. We’d have won it too. Argentina were shot.”
But they wouldn’t have got that far without Bobby’s genius decision not to oust that Cameroon spy from the training session - but to send him away with duff information instead.
Bobby Robson: More Than A Manager is out now on Digital Download, Blu-Ray and DVD