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Cameroon Runs All Over, Ends Up Where It Started

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thursday’s less-than-scintillating Group B matchup between Austria and Cameroon was of interest to Austria, Cameroon and, perhaps, the United States, which has based so much of its questionable World Cup optimism on a 3-0 victory over Austria in Vienna in late April.

Note to Team USA: Better not order the hors d’oeuvres for that Germany postgame victory party just yet.

Austria, outplayed for 90 minutes by Cameroon’s Lions, needed a defensive lapse by Cameroon in extra time to avoid a shutout and a loss, salvaging a 1-1 tie in the 91st minute at Toulouse.

A poorly defended corner kick left three Cameroon players standing and watching as the lone white shirt in their midst, Austrian fullback Anton Pfeffer, got his head on the ball and nodded it down into the penalty area toward a wide-open Toni Polster.

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Polster chested the ball down and took a quick step to his right, a move that brought Cameroon goalkeeper Jacques Song’o off his line and then froze him. Polster slammed the ball hard and high, banging it off the crossbar and into the net for a surprising--and not altogether deserved--equalizer.

“When you’ve got experience, you know it’s never lost until the final whistle,” said Polster, Austria’s 34-year-old captain. “So you keep going.”

A dejected Cameroon defender, Rigobert Song, blamed his team’s overall youth for the late collapse.

“We were naive and maybe that cost us the match,” Song said. “We thought we had the victory in our pockets and relaxed.”

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Cameroon deserved better. For 70 minutes, Austria did not put a serious shot on net while the Lions were denied repeatedly by the acrobatics of Austria’s overworked goalkeeper, Michael Konsel.

Pierre Wome had two chances to give Cameroon the early lead, only to be turned away, barely, by the scrambling Konsel.

In the 41st minute, a powerful free kick by Wome pierced the Austrian wall, requiring Konsel to lunge to his right to punch the ball away. Eighteen minutes later, Wome out-sprinted the Austrian defense and blasted away from 25 yards on the run--sending Konsel sprawling to palm the ball just over the crossbar and out of play.

Finally, Cameroon broke through in the 77th minute on an early candidate for Goal of France 98--a 50-yard dash and finish by Pierre Njanka not likely to be featured on any “Defend Like a Champion” video primer for Austrian schoolboys.

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Njanka’s jaunt through the Austria penalty area embarrassed two Austrian defenders--first Wolfgang Feiersinger, whose lurching slide tackle came up empty, and then Peter Schottel, who spun 360 degrees while Njanka deked him to set up a point-blank shot from six yards.

It was an unexpected bit of flair in a dreary game that, to that point, had been distinguished only by brutish tackling by the Lions--midfielder Augustine Simo left nasty stud marks in the right leg of Austrian midfielder Heimo Pfeifenberger--and hopeless long balls flogged repeatedly downfield by Austria.

The teams were jeered as they left the field after a scoreless first half that was a drab and gray as the weather.

Austrian Coach Herbert Prohaska, apparently distracted on the sideline by a tape-delay feed of the Chile-Italy game, said, rather remarkably, “We deserved this draw. Cameroon had no chances until their goal. We weren’t very good in midfield, but we fought a lot and gave everything, as we did in qualifying.”

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Similarly, Cameroon midfielder Patrick Mboma did what he could to find a silver lining.

“This is far from a disaster,” Mboma claimed. “We are not going to let other teams walk over us.”


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