Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Ninety Minutes to National Pride

I preached and served Communion at John Wesley UMC Sunday morning. I also dedicated two babies, and said a prayer for every child who was about to start school. But the biggest response I got was just after the benediction, when I cheekily added, “Allez les Lions!” (Go, Lions!)

The congregation roared in anticipation of the big, Big, BIG soccer match scheduled for 5 pm. Cameroon vs. Cote d’Ivoire. A World Cup qualifier that had enormous implications. Lose, and the Lions were out. Win, and the Lions are likely in.

As previously posted, you know what happened … Cameroon snatched a 3-2 victory on Cote d’Ivoire’s turf. I watched the match on CRTV in my living room with Ebede, a young Cameroonian who was on the AIDS team, and Jean, our day guard. I kept notes of the match.

Here’s a minute-by-minute account:

0:00 -- Just before kickoff, the announcers note that it has been raining in Yaounde all afternoon. Apparently, this is a good sign for the Lions; when the players found out, they said to tell their fans that it was “raining in their hearts.” I’ve been a Texas Rangers fan too long; I know to be skeptical of omens, signs and “good feelings.”

2:40 – The adrenaline kicks in, when a Cote d’Ivoire shot is blocked by the goalkeeper.

5:26 – I note to Ebede that the ball seems to have a lot of bounce, especially compared to English Premiereship-level matches. He replies that the field is probably uneven and rough, even though it looks green and well-kept on TV.

6:14 – There are two announcers for the game. They alternate speaking in French and English throughout the match. But what is most annoying is that the audio is clearly three seconds ahead of the video signal; so we know what’s coming before it happens!

7:46 – Cameroon’s first shot-on-goal is blocked.

10:17 – A second Cameroonian shot is blocked.

12:24 – So far, the game has been a cautious, measured chessgame. But a Cote d’Ivoire shot goes wide left, setting up the match’s first corner kick. Fortunately, the goalie snags the shot before anything happens.

16:00 – Cameroon is clearly beginning to dominate in terms of possession, offensive organization, and well-planned attacks. But nothing has come of it yet.

26:45 – The first yellow card is given to a Cote d’Ivorian named Zoro, after a rough tackle near midfield.

27:46 – Cameroon’s one true football star, Eto’o, almost scores, touching off waves of disappointment. He plays for Barcelona in the Spanish football league.

29:35 – Cameroon’s Webo takes a pass from the left side of the field, catches the goalie out of place and bloops the ball over his head, into the net … GOAL!!! Cameroon 1, Cote d’Ivoire 0. From my balcony, I can hear a roar of cheers across the neighborhood and city. I’m on my feet with Ebede and Jean! “Now the goals will come!” says Ebede with supreme confidence.

32:28 – Apparently, Cote d’Ivoire is beginning to feel the pressure. The announcer says that a fan nearby has fainted and is being carried off on a stretcher.

36:26 – There are very few camera shots of the sidelines, but I’ve noticed that the Cameroon coach is a pasty Portuguese man with really bad hair. He looks a little like Albert Einstein. I don’t know if this is a good sign or not.

37:41 – The Cameroon defender on the right side of the goal completely misplays a ball, allowing a pass to a wide-open Drogba in front of the goal. Drogba, the star of England’s Chelsea, buries the ball into the back of the net. 1-1. Now from my balcony, I can hear crying and screaming.

41:14 – Another Cote d’Ivoire yellow card. A free kick for Cameroon, but nothing comes of it.

45:00 – Two minutes of extra time will be played before the end of the first half. I am wondering what I can find in the refrigerator at halftime.

47:02 – Webo again … finds the net! Cameroon has taken the lead, 2-0! When the halftime whistle is blown, Cameroonian fans rejoice.

I am amused by the fact that the halftime show features commentary and in-studio analysis by … executives and board members of Cameroon Airlines, Orange Phone Network, and “33” Beer. All of which are “official sponsors of the Cameroon Lions.” Good to know that corporate sponsorship crosses cultures.

48:33 – Before we are settled back on the couch, Cameroon’s Geremi is whistled for a yellow card, setting up a rather dangerous free kick by Drogba … and … it is expertly drilled into the left side of the net. Another goal. There goes the lead. 2-2.

51:35 – The sound drops out on the TV for several minutes. Believe me, we’re not missing anything.

54:54 – Tensions are beginning to run high. Players are jostling, pushing, shoving.

59:17 – Cote d’Ivoire makes the first substitution of the match. So far, they’ve outplayed us in the second half. Ebede says forlornly, “They’re playing better than us now.”

72:14 – The first Cameroon substitution. Djemba is in, Olembe out. Ebede mutters under his breath, “Why are they doing that? Djemba doesn’t know how to play!”

76:43 – A shot from Cote d’Ivoire hits the upper right corner of the goalpost and bounces away. It’s gotten quiet in our living room. Cameroon is just flat being outplayed.

82:11 – As another Cote d’Ivoire shot goes wide right, I ask Ebede what happens if the game ends in a tie. He says it’s not good for Cameroon.

83:12 – Feeling the pressure, Cameroon makes another substitution, and begins to pour on the offensive heat.

88:00 – The offensive strategy seems to be working, as the ball is consistently in the Cote d’Ivoire half of the field. A shot on goal hits the goalpost, rebounds to … Webo, who heads it INTO THE GOAL! CAMEROON SCORES with only six minutes left in regulation! The city outside explodes! Chloe and Mallory are running around the apartment, yelling “Cameroon! Cameroon!” in a silly, sing-song voice. I try to tell everyone that the game is not over yet, but in all practicality, it is.

The last six minutes of the game are a formality. The orange-clad Cote d’Ivoirians know it. They morosely kick the ball around. The Lions are giddy … Moments later, the final whistle sounds. And Cameroon has defeated the heavily-favored Elephants. The cheering goes on for an hour, and deep into the night. It feels as if National Pride has fallen out of the heavens and descended upon the city like a heavy rain.