Work in Sports
Cameroon win penalty thriller to keep gold in Africa
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SYDNEY, Sept 30 (AFP) - Cameroon beat nine-man Spain 5-3 on penalties in a thrilling climax to the men's Olympic football tournament here Saturday.
Spain, reduced to nine men by the time the regulation 90 minutes finished at 2-2, hung on bravely through 30 minutes of extra time to force the match into a penalty shootout.
But their hopes of victory were shattered when defender Amaya, who had already scored an own goal, hit the bar with his side's third effort.
After Lauren Etame Mayer and Albelda successfully converted it was down to Cameroon sweeper Pierre Wome.
He kept his nerve, sending Spanish goalkeeper Aranzubia the wrong way to earn his country its first ever Olympic gold medal and keep the Olympic title in Africa after Nigeria's historic triumph four years ago in Atlanta.
"It is not the way you really want to win. We would have preferred to have won in extra-time," said Cameroon coach Jean-Paul Akono.
"But Spain defended excellently and we wasted the opportunities that were afforded us. It was very difficult going in at half-time two goals down and if the team did not have great morale we would not have been able to come back."
Cameroon, who won the African Nations Cup earlier this year, were two goals behind at the interval. But they recovered to level the scores midway through the second-half before Spanish substitute Gabri was sent-off in the 70th minute and Jose Mari was dismissed for diving in the dying seconds of regulation time.
With such a numerical advantage the Indomitable Lions should have won the game in extra-time but some excellent saves from Aranzbuia and their reluctance to commit enough players to attack allowed the Spaniards to hold out for the lottery of the penalty shoot-out.
Spanish coach Inaki Saez Ruiz said the two sending-offs changed the game.
"The referee cannot be as strict as he was in the final of the Olympic Games," he said. "We started well, scoring and creating plenty of chances but Cameroon were always strong and at half-time we talked about how crucial the first ten minutes of the second-half would be. They got a lucky first goal and they came out firing."
Spain, the 1992 gold medallists made the perfect start, opening the scoring after just 90 seconds when Xavi curled a free-kick over the wall and into the corner of the net.
Angulo spurned a glorious opportunity to double the lead in the fifth minute when his tame penalty was easily saved by Idriss Carlos Kameni after Jose Mari had been fouled in the penalty box.
The closest Cameroon came to a goal in the first period was Patrick Mboma's header in the 23rd minute, which flew wide of the post, despite the backing of the vast majority of the 98,212 crowd, who were infuriated by the Spanish players feigning injuries.
And substitute Gabri made it two for Spain with the last touch of the first half, running onto a header and coolly slotting the ball past Kameni from 15 yards out.
But the second-half was a totally different affair.
Cameroon halved the deficit in the 53rd minute when Mboma's cross was deflected into his own net by Amaya.
As the tension rose Jose Mari was felled by an elbow to the back of the head from Patrice Abanda but amazingly the incident was missed by all three officials.
Five minutes later Mboma broke down the right again and his centre was converted by Samuel Eto'O Fils, who plays his football in Spain with Real Madrid, sending the crowd into raptures.
Mboma went close again with another header before Spain were reduced to ten men in the 70th minute after Gabri sunk his studs into Nicolas Alnoudji's knee.
As the Spanish midfielder was booed off the pitch he responded by giving the crowd first the two-fingered salute then the one-fingered version.
In the 85th minute Eto'O had the ball in the net but the Mexican referee correctly ruled that he had used his hand to control it in the build-up.
With extra-time looming Jose Mari fell to the ground in the Cameroon area looking for a penalty and received a second yellow card for diving for his troubles.
Cameroon surged forward early in the extra period and Aranzubia saved brilliantly from Eto'O and Joel Epalle before the blanket Spanish defence, camped across their 18 yard line, managed to suffocate the tired Africans' attacking thrusts.
Eto'O had a goal ruled out in the 120th and final minute for a borderline offside decision before the match went to penalties.
Mboma, Eto'O, Geremi Njitap Fotos of Cameroon and Xavi and Capdevila of Spain converted the first five attempts before Amaya watched in agony as his effort rebounded off the crossbar.
Akono played down suggestions that Africa's second Olympic title pointed to the continent claiming the World Cup in the near future.
"It is the natural progression for an African side to win the World Cup but not straight away," he said. "The African countries must be better organised and more professional in their approach.
"We have won three African Nations Cups and now we have won the Olympics," he added.
"That is not a chance that is given to everybody and it is magnificent.