50 Greatest Players in World Cup History: #24 Roger Milla
If there's a football World Cup shindig in heaven by the time we all pass, I'd book a front row seat if the show ends with Roger Milla shaking those hips near a flag that rises up to his throat.
Milla had made it a habit. He'd come off the bench, score and then explode into an incredible routine by the corner flag. He gave the FIFA World Cup generous servings of joy gift wrapped with love from Mama Africa.
What sets Milla apart from the other legends of the game is that he shimmied his way into the hearts of billions at the age of 38 when most footballers would confine themselves to doing analyses from the studio or cooling off at some exotic beach that costs an arm and a leg to even stare at.
But Milla had started way back. In fact, at the age of 38, he was already a veteran, playing in the third World Cup of his career. Milla debuted for Cameroon 21 years before he became the oldest player to score in a World Cup in 1994 at Russia.
The buoyant forward played in the 1982 World Cup and was unfortunate to have his goal disallowed in the group stage game against Peru. Cameroon crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage.
Milla was in fact, phoned out of retirement by the country's president Paul Biya in 1990 and nobody had any idea that this "old man" was going to become the football's greatest pop culture blessing.
Out of all the games, it was his spectacular performance off the bench against Colombia in the last 16 clash that truly elevated him to the status of one of the greatest World Cup players. An ageing Milla could not get out and do what he does for the length of a game. So he stuffs his insane ability, compresses himself into a fireball and explodes for close to half an hour, every game.
And by doing that, he propelled Cameroon to unprecedented heights. After knowing that Milla scored two beauties against Romania in the group stages, Colombia should have been more wary about his presence on the pitch.
Milla came off the bench with the game deadlocked. He plays a delightful one-two with no. 7 Onam Biyik before flitting past the last defender like a 20-year-old and smashing the ball into the roof of the net to take the lead for Cameroon. About 2 minutes later, Higuita and his central defenders were made to look like dummies by Roger Milla once again.
Higuita came way out of his lines to collect a clearance. Instead of booting it upfield, Higuita and his central defenders start passing the ball between themselves. Milla prances into the fore like the jaguar, the prime predator, steals the ball from El Loco himself and fires into an open net to put things beyond doubt. And of course, the world danced with him about 5 seconds later when he went to the corner flag to do his thing.
Milla scored 4 goals and won a penalty in the tournament. He set up a goal in the quarter-finals against England.
Roger Milla changed the way clubs looked at African footballers. That they could be unbridled in enthusiasm and goes beyond all expectations when it came to fitness and mentality was news for them.
Cameroon had earlier pulled a shock upset on the defending champions Argentina in the group stages and it would be fair to say that they stole the show at the World Cup and Roger Milla was at the centre of it all.
Dancing away at the corner flag, leaving the petite belly dancers of the world distressed and green-eyed.
For putting Cameroon on the World Cup map and for inspiring a plethora of incredulous goal celebrations, Roger Milla is one of our 50 Greatest World Cup Players.