BY SCOTT FRENCH IN SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
Cameroon gave Africa its second successive Olympic men's soccer gold medal Saturday afternoon, knocking off Spain in a penalty-kick shootout after overcoming a two-goal deficit in a scintillating encounter at Stadium Australia.
Patrick Mboma created goals five minutes apart early in the second half as the Indomitable Lions, dominant most of the match, rallied for a 2-2 draw before outfiring the Spaniards, 5-3, in the tiebreaker.
Spain, down to nine men by the finish, defended well and profited from fortune during overtime, forcing the shootout despite spending nearly the entire 30 minutes of extra time in its box.
Defender Amaya, whose own goal put Cameroon on the scoreboard in the 53rd minute, was the only shooter to fail during penalty kicks, clanging his shot off the crossbar after Mboma, Samuel Eto'o and Geremi Njitap had fired the Lions ahead, 3-2.
Lauren Etame Mayer followed with a casual conversion, and after Albelda got one back for Spain, Pierre Wome found the upper-left corner with the winner. It set off a wild celebration and was received warmly by a crowd of 98,212 that overwhelmingly favored the Africans throughout the match.
"Winning the gold at the Olympic Games is absolutely wonderful ...," crowed Lions coach Jean-Paul Akono. "Our players are very skilled, but I must say there was a great deal of luck involved."
Cameroon, featuring a half-dozen players who were part of the Lions squad that beat Nigeria on penalty kicks in the African Nations Cup final last February, claimed its first Olympic soccer medal and the second for Africa after Nigeria's dramatic triumph four years ago at the Atlanta Games.
Africa has yet to duplicate its success in underage tournaments at the World Cup level, but Akono said it could with "more organization, more seriousness" in its teams' approach.
The Spaniards were in control early, striking after 78 seconds on a sensational Xavi free kick and nearly doubling its advantage when Mexican referee Felipe de Jesus Ramos Rizo was fooled into awarding a penalty kick after four minutes, and scored what ought to have been the clincher nearly two minutes into first-half stoppage time.
It was Cameroon's game from that point, with repeated thrusts into the Spanish box denied by a fine defense led by Puyol and goalkeeper Aranzubia or just missing the target.
The Lions -- with two-thirds of its 18-man roster based at European clubs and three of them in Spain (Eto'o at Real Mallorca, Njitap at Real Madrid and Daniel Ngom Kome at Levante) -- had far more possession throughout the match, but they had nothing to show for their dominance until the second half. Serge Branco nearly tallied in the opening seconds after the break, but Aranzubia was able to poke his 22-yard blast over the bar.
The goalkeeper had no chance seven minutes later, after Ngom Kome sprung Mboma into space on the right wing. Mboma tried to cross the ball into the box, but it ricocheted off the chest of Amaya -- shadowing Mboma's run -- and beat Aranzubia at the near post.
Mboma played the pivotal role on Eto'o's equalizer five minutes later, taking a long, low pass up the right wing and crossing it behind Amaya and Lacruz. Eto'o, alone, was waiting for it on the left side of the box; he needed one touch to settle it, then fired across the goal, beating Aranzubia from 9 yards.
Cameroon continued to pile on the pressure, and red cards to Gabri and then Jose Mari forced Spain to take on a posture even more defensive than they had previously exhibited.
The Spaniards played the final 20 minutes of regulation with only 10 men after Ramos Rizo dismissed Gabri for a late, cleats-up thrust into Nicolas Alnoudji's knee. Gabri twice showed an obscene gesture to the crowd as he walked off to a storm of boos.
Jose Mari was ejected in stoppage time for his second yellow-card infraction, a deliberate dive in the box in a desperate attempt to trick the referee into awarding another penalty.
Mboma was Cameroon's main man up front, but Eto'o came closer to scoring the winner on several occasions. He just placed a first-time shot wide from a Lauren cross in the 72nd minute, forced Aranzubia into a diving save with a fine volley five minutes into overtime, then scored a would-be winner in the final minute of the extra period that was annulled when Vanuatuan linesman Elise Doriri flagged him for offside. Replays were conclusive that the goal should have counted.
Spain nearly claimed the gold at the beginning of overtime, but Capdevila's 22-yard free kick from the right flank hit the outside of the crossbar.
The Spaniards went ahead at the start, with Xavi curling home a free kick from 19 yards after Patrice Abanda dragged down Tamudo at the edge of the Cameroonian box. Xavi fired over Lauren and Branco at the left of the wall and into the far-side netting; goalkeeper Idriss Carlos Kameni, just 16, never took a step.
It might have been 2-0 within minutes after Jose Mari ran onto a through ball and into the Cameroonian box. Aaron Nguimbat appeared to clip Jose Mari's heels at the top of the area, and Ramos Rizo pointed to the spot when Jose Mari went down.
Replays suggested that Nguimbat and Jose Mari never made contact and that Jose Mari fell after clipping his own heel.
Kameni guessed correctly on Angulo's penalty kick, diving to his right to snag the shot.
Gabri, who came on when Toni Velamazan suffered a collar bone injury after falling over Alnoudji in the 22nd minute, scored the second goal when left in the clear by a Lacruz header that soared over the Lions midfielder and defenders, who were grouped together near the midfield stripe. Gabri settled the bouncing ball and fired it with his right instep past Kameni and inside the left post as Nguimbat raced in to challenge.
Spain managed little offense after that, with the loss of Tamudo to injury just four minutes into the second half sapping some of its attacking strength. Mboma and Amaya teamed on the own goal four minutes after that, Eto'o finished Mboma's cross five minutes later, and Cameroon dictated terms most of the rest of the way.
"It was difficult for our morale when they scored late in the first half, but if we didn't have morale, we wouldn't have won," Akono said. "Unfortunately for the Spanish team, we came back."
Chile won the bronze medal as tournament scoring champion Ivan Zamorano tallied twice, his fifth and sixth goals of the Olympics, in a 2-0 victory over the United States on Friday night at the Sydney Football Stadium. Brazil won FIFA's Fair Play award.
Norway won the women's gold, beating the United States in overtime on Thursday night, with Germany topping Brazil for the bronze.
GAME SUMMARY -- SATURDAY, SEPT. 30 AT STADIUM AUSTRALIA, HOMEBUSH, SYDNEY
Spain 2 Cameroon 2. Goals: Xavi 2, Gabri 47+; own goal Amaya 53, Eto'o 58.
Cameroon wins on penalty kicks, 5-3.
Spain -- Aranzubia; Lacruz, Amaya, Marchena, Puyol; Albelda, Velamazan (Gabri, 26), Angulo (Capdevila, 74), Xavi; Tamudo (Ferron, 49), Jose Mari.
Cameroon -- Kameni; Nguimbat (Ngom Kome, 46); Abanda, Mimpo, Wome; Njitap, Etame Mayer, Alnoudji (Meyong Ze, 111), Branco (Epalle, 91); Eto'o, Mboma.
Penalty kicks -- Cameroon: Mboma G, Eto'o G, Njitap G, Etame Mayer G, Wome G; Spain: Xavi G, Capdevila G, Amaya CB, Albelda G. Key: G -- goal, CB -- crossbar.
Yellow cards -- Albelda 19, Abanda 25, Jose Mari 55, 91+, Aranzubia 117. Red cards -- Gabri 70, Jose Mari 91+.
Referee -- Felipe de Jesus Ramos Rizo (Mexico). Att. -- 98,212.
2000 Olympic soccer medalists
Silver: United States
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