Golden oldies dream of new chance for glory
Two men who sat on opposing benches when the 1990 World Cup finals kicked off in Milan 12 years ago are dreaming of another shot at glory in South Korea and Japan this year.
Jacques Songo'o, now 37, was goalkeeper Thomas N'Kono's reserve in the Cameroon side that shocked the world with an upset 1-0 victory over Diego Maradona's Argentina, then the defending champions.
Claudio Caniggia, just 23, came off the bench in the second half to create such havoc in the Cameroon defence they had two men sent off but still managed to hang on for a famous victory.
Had coach Carlos Bilardo put Caniggia on from the start, as most of his compatriots wanted, the story might have been different.
Cameroon reached the quarter-finals, the best World Cup performance by an African side, while Argentina recovered to reach the final, which Caniggia missed because of suspension.
Songo'o went on to forge a successful club career with Deportivo Coruna, becoming the first foreign goalkeeper to win the Zamora prize for the least goals conceded in a Spanish league season and later helped his team win the championship in the late 1990s.
On the bench again last Wednesday, only this time as understudy to Alioum Boukar when Cameroon held Argentina 2-2 in a World Cup warm-up friendly in Geneva, Songo'o looks set for another trip to the finals.
Caniggia, who was involved in Argentina's second goal in only his second international since 1996, is also hopeful of making the squad for his third finals after missing France '98.
Argentina played Cameroon as preparation for their match against Nigeria in World Cup group F in Japan that also includes England and Sweden.
"Cameroon were stronger physically then, but this time we felt on the same level. That's good because our first match is against Nigeria and if we can match them physically then it's down to football," Caniggia said.
Cameroon will meet three-times World Cup winners Germany, Ireland and Saudi Arabia in another Japan-based group, E.
"It's a momentous souvenir, to beat the defending champions. When we faced Argentina we frankly didn't think we could win," Songo'o said of the upset on June 8, 1990.
"That victory gave us a lot of self-assurance. It's a key match for us, a very, very important moment in the career of a footballer," he said in an interview with Reuters.
Songo'o pointed to Cameroon's progress by listing their three successive titles, the last two Africans Nations Cups with the 2000 Olympic gold medal in between.
"That proves we have a very good standard, but we must keep our feet on the ground," he said. "We have more rigour, discipline."
Songo'o said Ireland posed a bigger threat than Germany, whose last world crown came in 1990.
"Ireland are the most difficult team for us. They play like England, very strong in the air," he said.
"We know what Germany are all about even if they are not at their best.
"Saudi Arabia are a dangerous team with nothing to lose, so we must be careful. There are no favourites in the group."
Cameroon have set themselves the target of improving on their 1990 quarter-final, when they lost 3-2 against England who came from behind with two second-half penalties.
"We played an extraordinary match against England, we led 2-1 but two penalties lost us the match. Those are things that happen in football. But we left the field with our heads held high," Songo'o said.
He added that good form leading up to the finals was no guarantee of ultimate success.
"Between the qualifiers and the World Cup finals there is a world of difference," he said.
"We remember beating Colombia (in the second round) in Italy in 1990 and they went to the 1994 finals as favourites after some fine performances in the qualifiers (including a 5-0 win over Argentina in Buenos Aires), only to be eliminated in the first round.
"We're looking to reach at least the semifinals (this time).
"Cameroon have a poise and maturity they did not used to have and now everyone knows their strengths," Songo'o said.
"I don't know what (ingredient) we're missing to be able to win the trophy, but one of these days an African team is going to play a World Cup final."