world cup TBT

Meria Mata

Village Chief
Zaire or the Leopards as they were nicknamed, was the first Sub-Saharan African team to reach the World Cup Finals and their story is one of wonder and woe. They qualified for the Finals having won the African Cup of Nations earlier that year.

On June 22nd 1974 Brazil were cruising to victory in a World Cup group match against already eliminated Zaire. It was a match that was meandering out to a predictable conclusion but as Rivelino and Jairzinho dithered over taking a free kick, an incident occurred that turned the game from a footnote in world cup history to one of its most famous encounters.

Late in their third match, a free kick was given to Zairian opponents Brazil at a central position just outside the penalty box. Before Brazil's free kick specialist Rivelino could take it, however, Zaire defender Mwepu Ilunga darted out of the defending wall and kicked the ball away as hard as he could. At the time, some thought of it as "a bizarre moment of African ignorance" as quoted by BBC reporter John Motson. Ever since, it is regularly listed among the most hilarious and memorable moments of World Cup history.
Only decades later did Ilunga explain that he was fully aware of the rules and had hoped to be sent off in an act of protest, but referee Nicolae Rainea only showed him a yellow card.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko had invested heavily in the national football team. It led to continental success, with Zaire winning the African Cup of Nations in 1968 and in March 1974, just three months before their World Cup appearance. After qualifying for the 1974 FIFA World Cup in December 1973, the players were each given a car and a house by Mobutu.
The disastrous displays of the Zaire national team were put into a new light in a notable 2002 interview with defender Mwepu Ilunga. According to him, they were informed they would not be paid after their initial 0-2 defeat against Scotland. This led to the Zairian players refusing to play. Even though they were persuaded to show up against Yugoslavia, they were unmotivated and lost 0-9, one of the highest defeats in FIFA World Cup history.
"After the match, he (Mobutu) sent his presidential guards to threaten us. They closed the hotel to all journalists and said that if we lost 0-4 to Brazil, none of us would be able to return home", Ilunga is quoted.
They lost their final match 0-3.

Meria Mata

Village Chief
Roger Milla's famous 'Makossa dance' corner flag celebration _1990

It was arguably the most powerful emblem of the tournament that changed the way the world saw African football -- a Cameroon striker's joyous dance at a corner flag.

Not many casual observers knew that much about 38-year-old Roger Milla -- the football veteran who, after each of his four tournament goals, shimmied his way into the spotlight.

Milla dancing in front of the corner flag became a hit. It was an image of joy, of positive energy, communication through body language.Those goals put Cameroon, and ultimately African football, on the world map.