Roger Milla had a long playing career. Starting out at the age of 18, in Cameroon, he moved to France where he had a decent career playing for some top division clubs like Monaco, Saint-Etienne, and Montpellier. He then returned to Cameroon in his late thirties.
Milla’s popularity was restricted to Cameroon and France, two countries where he played club football until he made a telling impact at the 1990 World Cup in Italy at the age of 38
Due to his age, Milla was not a starter for Cameroon in Italy. Eight years ago, at the 1982 World Cup, when Milla was in his prime, he had failed to register himself on the scoresheet during the country’s three games in the group stage. In 1990, the expectations from the veteran were far lesser.
Cameroon started the World Cup highlighting their credentials, stunning Diego Maradona’s Argentina, the defending champions 1-0 in the opening game.
With a place in the knockout stage up for grabs, Milla came to the party for Cameroon to net a match-winning brace against Romania in the next match.
Coming on as a substitute, just like the way he did against Argentina, Milla made a telling impact. Outmuscling Romanian centre-back Ioan Andone, who failed to deal with the bouncing ball, Milla finished past the goalkeeper to peel away in celebration.
He ran to the corner flag and unleashed a few dance moves. Nobody had celebrated a goal quite like that in the past. Such was the charm of that celebration from Milla that goal celebrations were never the same again.
Eight minutes later, Milla proved age was just a number again when he showcased his pace to get on the end of a flick-on and score Cameroon’s second goal.
Despite losing the final group stage game 4-0 to the Soviet Union, Cameroon advanced to the Round of 16 as group winners. But Milla and the Indomitable Lions were not done just yet.
In the last 16, Cameroon’s tie against Colombia went the distance. In extra-time with the score still locked at 0-0, Milla who had come on as a substitute in the 54th minute portrayed he had more qualities in him other than physicality and athleticism.
Pause, rewind, play
Relive the greatest, most iconic moments in sporting history.
Two deft touches saw Milla get behind the Colombian backline. Rene Higuita, Colombia’s eccentric goalkeeper was a bit too ahead of his line and left his near post open for Milla to break the deadlock.
The wily Milla once again caught Higuita cold two minutes later when he stole the ball of the goalkeeper who had typically advanced from his goal line to build-up play.
The 38-year-old made no mistake as he fired the ball into the empty net to give Cameroon a 2-0 lead. Colombia pulled one back but Milla’s team held on to become the first African team to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Milla’s goals and his unique goal celebrations went down as one of the memorable moments in World Cup history.
The Cameroonian was back at the World Cup four years later in the United States and even scored for his country. At 42, he remains the oldest player to score in the World Cup to date.
Twenty years after his exploits in 1990, Africa hosted its first-ever World Cup in South Africa. Coca-Cola made a special commercial commemorating the legend of Roger Milla.
“This man didn’t just show the world how to celebrate, but also how to live,” it rightly said.