|Olympic Games 2000|
Spain 2 - Cameroon 2 (penalties: 3 - 5)
Spain: Aranzubia; Lacruz, Amaya, Marchena, Puyol; Velamazán (Gabri 26'), Albelda, Xavi, Angulo (Capdevila 74'); Tamudo (Ferrón 48'), José Mari. 4-4-2.
It was not to be. Spain fell at the final hurdle after a thrilling match in which Mexican referee Felipe de Jesús Ramos Rizo heavily influenced the result, sending off two Spanish players and turning a blind eye to penalty claims. The match could not have started better for Spain, with Xavi curling a free kick over the wall and in to the bottom corner of the net in the first minute. Four minutes later they could have gone further ahead when José Mari was brought down in the penalty area, but Cameroon's 16 year old keeper Kameni saved Angulo's penalty kick.
Spain's manager Iñaki Saez had kept the same line up as in their semi-final, although he had to make an early change after Velamazán fell heavily on his shoulder, which appeared to be dislocated, and Gabri came on in his place. That proved to be a shrewd move, as the Barcelona midfielder joined his team mate Xavi on the score sheet with a strike in the second minute of time added on for injury, his third of the tournament.
A minute after the interval Saez was forced to replace the other Espanyol player in his side, Tamudo, who limped off to be replaced by Zaragoza's new signing Ferrón, with Angulo moving forward. Then bad fortune hit as Mboma cut in to the penalty area from the right, his attempted cross hitting Amaya full on the chest and bouncing past Aranzubia into the net. Cameroon then got a let off when José Mari fell theatrically in the penalty area while waiting for a free kick to be taken. Ramos Rizo gave the Spanish striker a yellow card for diving, but a slow motion replay showed that he had been hit on the head from behind by Abanda's elbow. A couple of minutes later the scores were level, as once again Mboma got free on the right and centred for Eto'o to control and force a half hit shot past the keeper.
With either side likely to score, Gabri challenged for a ball and went in high on Alnoudji, his tackle not appearing to be deliberate but catching the player on the knee. The referee immediately produced a red card and Spain were down to ten men. It was a harsh decision, but Gabri had no right to make the ugly one finger gesture he repeated two or three times to all and sundry as he left the field, and that could cost him a bigger ban. The numerical advantage started to pay off for Cameroon, and after Eto'o shot just wide after Lauren had set him up from the right, Saez decided to strengthen his left defence, bringing on Capdevila, taking off Angulo and leaving José Mari alone up front.
Six minutes from time Eto'o got the ball in the net again, but he had illegally controlled the ball with his hand and the goal was disallowed. As the final whistle approached Spain attacked again, and once again José Mari was pushed by Abanda and fell in the box. Had the AC Milan forward not made such a meal of it he could have won a penalty, but once again the referee ignored the foul and gave José Mari a second yellow for diving, leaving his side with nine men.
That left Spain with a team made up of a goalkeeper, six defenders and two defensive midfielders, and with all substitutions made, Saez pushed right wing back Ferrón up in attack. They had little interest in passing the half way line though, with a penalty shoot out as their best hope, and after Capdevila hit the post with a powerful shot after a short Xavi free kick, Saez pulled all his players back to defend. Aranzubia made a couple of great saves in a row, first from Eto'o and then from Epalle, and with the referee likely to give a penalty at the slightest provocation, Spain's tackling was superb. Then the referee finally saved Spain with another inexplicable decision, Eto'o finally lifting the ball past Aranzubia and seeing his goal once again ruled out for a non-existent offside. The only explanation was that Mboma was walking back to his own half down on the left wing, but he was yards away from the action and clearly not interfering with play.
And so it went to the penalty shoot out, with the unfortunate Amaya rounding off a lousy night as his penalty shot hit the cross bar and bounced out. Xavi, Capdevila and Albelda scored theirs, but Cameroon got five out of five to take their country's first ever gold medal. Aranzubia fell to the ground sobbing and Amaya was inconsolable, but they eventually put on brave faces for the presentation of their silver medals. A great performance by Spain against a side who took full advantage of their three over-age players, and it is probably idle speculation to imagine what they could have done if they had selected their best possible squad, which could have included under age players Casillas, Raúl, Etxeberria, Gerard and Baraja, plus three full internationals, for example Mendieta, Hierro and Alfonso.
In the end though Mr. Blatter got his way with an African team winning, and Sr. Ramos Rizo must be feeling hot under the collar watching the action replays. That takes nothing away from the performance of Cameroon, having battled through themselves, first with nine men against Brazil, and then a goal down with minutes to play in their semi-final with Chile, and our congratulations go out to them. Three of their players, Eto'o, Geremi and Kome, return to their teams in Spain, and I suppose it is some consolation that all four goals came from players playing in the Spanish league. Now it's time for the long haul home, and clubs will be thankful that at last they can count on their young stars (injuries and jet lag permitting). Book your tickets now for Athens 2004.
|Sydney 2000 fixtures|