Monday, October 10, 2005

The Agony of the Draw

There is no joy in Cameroon this week. The national pride is drooping after Saturday’s debacle at the Omnisport Stadium in Yaounde.

It was supposed to be a glorious, red-green-yellow day. An unprecedented sixth invitation to the World Cup. The indomitable Lions had already defeated the true enemy – Cote d’Ivoire (see a previous blog) just a month ago. All that stood in the way of the World Cup was a puny little Egyptian squad. We even had home field advantage.

Leah and I had invited a house full of Cameroon guests, prepared a big traditional African feast, and were ready to party the night away.

It all started promisingly enough, when Cameroon took an early 1-0 lead. Egypt looked slow, uninterested, sluggish. A few opportunities were wasted here and there, but by halftime, the match seemed in hand, the result assured.

Late in the second half, however, a defensive breakdown resulted in an Egyptian goal. Suddenly, the match was tied 1-1. My friends warned me that a tie was not sufficient; Cameroon would only advance for certain if they beat Egypt.

As the time ticked down, the Lions became aggressive and pushed the ball at every opportunity. The air was slowly being sucked out of the room.

When the referee signaled that there would be five minutes of stoppage play, we felt that we’d been given a respite, and Cameroon continued to attack.

With less than two minutes left, a Cameroonian was fouled inside the box and the Lions were miraculously awarded a penalty kick. The city exploded with joy. This was the moment we’d been waiting for … surely a Cameroonian victory had been written in the stars!

A lone Cameroonian player stood facing the goal. The Egyptian goalie looked nervously around. Everyone in our house was on their feet. It seemed to take an eternity – the Lion approached ... kicked ... the goalie dived the wrong way ... the ball arced … hit the post and bounced away.

A million hearts sank.

Just moments later, the whistle blew. 1-1.

The announcer sadly informed us that Cote d’Ivoire had won their match, and thus, would receive the World Cup bid. His voice was shaky, broken. And he tried hard, in French, to remind everyone, including me, that it's all ... just a game.

But no one believes him.