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Cameroon Digs a Hole and Finds Gold


SYDNEY, Australia — Cameroon won the soccer gold medal in the most dramatic way possible Saturday, coming from two goals down to defeat Spain, 5-3, on penalty kicks, after a 2-2 tie in regulation.

Willed on by a crowd of 98,212 at Olympic Stadium, the African team turned what looked like a sure defeat into a momentous victory that was as deserved as it was exciting.

Cameroon thus follows Nigeria, the 1996 gold medalist, as Olympic champion, further signaling the rise of African soccer.

The game started in startling fashion, with Spain scoring only 1:18 into the contest on a free-kick goal by Xavi from 19 yards after Raul Tamudo had been fouled on the edge of the penalty area by Cameroon defender Serge Branco after only 15 seconds.

Xavi's shot over the defensive wall and into the lower left corner of the net gave Cameroon's 16-year-old goalkeeper Idriss Carlos Kameni no chance.

Spain might have made it 2-0 in the fifth minute when it was awarded a penalty kick after Jose Mari sprawled down in the box, Mexican referee Felipe de Jesus Ramos Rizo believing that the striker had been tripped.

But Kameni guessed correctly, dived to his right and made the save off Miguel Angulo.

After the early setback, Cameroon fought its way back into the match but suffered another blow in injury time at the end of the first half when a header from Jose Maria Lacruz put Gabri clear and the Barcelona midfielder scored from close range to make it 2-0.

At that point, Cameroon's gold medal hopes appeared faint, despite being the more technically skilled and more adventurous team.

The second 45 minutes and the entire 30-minute overtime belonged to the team in red, green and yellow, however.

Cameroon cut the deficit to one goal in the 53rd minute when an angled cross by forward Patrick Mboma was accidentally deflected into his own net by Spanish defender Ivan Amaya.

Buoyed by this turn of events, the African team, most of whose players are with professional clubs in Europe, attacked with even greater vigor. Five minutes later, they tied the score.

A pass from Mboma on the right flank into the goal area reached Samuel Eto'o Fils, who sprinted between defenders Lacruz and Amaya and slammed the ball past Spanish goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia.

The crowd erupted and suddenly it seemed as if Cameroon could win and would win. Those odds were improved when Gabri was red-carded for a crude foul on Nicolas Alnoudji, leaving Spain with only 10 men.

In the 91st minute, Jose Mari also was ejected, picking up a second yellow card for diving in the box.

The Spanish team dropped back on defense during overtime, hoping to survive and win on penalty kicks. Its only real offensive foray came when Joan Capdevila cracked a shot off the right post.

The tension of penalty kicks--during which the 17 coaches and players on the Cameroon bench stood with linked arms, some not even daring to watch--saw Mboma, Eto'o Fils, Geremi Njitap Fotso, Lauren Etame Mayer and Pierre Wome score for Cameroon.

For Spain, Xavi, Capdevila and David Albeda scored, but Amaya watched in dismay as his shot hit the crossbar, ending the Spain's dream of adding a second Olympic gold medal to the one it won in Barcelona in 1992.

The Cameroon team received a tremendous ovation when it stepped onto the podium to be presented with its gold medals by no less than a Spaniard--IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Smiling much more broadly than Samaranch when he handed the winning players their flowers was FIFA vice president Issa Hayatou of Cameroon.

Africa's day had come again.


Medal Winners

Men's Soccer

Gold: Cameroon

Silver: Spain

Bronze: Chile

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