Football / World Cup USA '94: African game ruthlessly dismantled: Russia's record-breaker exploits defensive frailties but Brazil lack usual authority

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FROM THE wry smile on Henri Michel's face you knew there was more to the departure of Cameroon than a tactical aberration. 'Because of problems in defence, my main objective was to strengthen the midfield,' said the Frenchman who instructs Cameroon. 'As you can see, it didn't work.'

Everybody remembered Cameroon as the gallant entertainers of Italia '90, running England close for a place in the semi-finals, but this time they didn't leave 'em cheering. This time they ended up on the sharp end of a record. They became the answer to a question: Against which country did Oleg Salenko of Russia score five goals in the World Cup finals?

If it was a memorable experience for the 24-year-old from Leningrad who turns out in Spain for Valencia, his captain, Viktor Onopko, was inclined to think practically. 'The fact that we scored six goals showed that the Cameroon defence was very weak, disorganised,' he said. 'It's not the fault of the Cameroon team. It's a feature of all the African teams.'

There was so much dissent in the Cameroon camp, so much squabbling over money, that it was bound to end in tears, but Onopko's remarks about African teams in general ought not to be taken lightly, even by Nigeria. Sublimely skilful in attack, naive in defence, struggling to accommodate the fact that the game is played at both ends. 'It was difficult to understand what Cameroon were trying to do,' Onopko added, 'but whatever it was they made things easy for us. Cameroon might have scored one or two goals but we should have scored at least 10. Towards the end I thought there would be another goal every time we went forward.'

Though winless before the match, Russia had impressed with their technique and organisation. 'We have beaten a very good team,' Brazil's coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, said of the Russians. 'A lot of people speak highly of them,' said the Luton manager, David Pleat, who is on BBC radio assignment.

However, it was more about the collapse of Cameroon than a Russian revival. If there is wide sympathy for them it should not cloud the problems in African football, political as well as technical.

Immensely popular with the audience in California, their efforts lustily cheered, Cameroon simply fell apart, in such disarray that Russia's initial bemusement was understandable. Could Cameroon be so open? They were, and full advantage was taken. 'One should not look only at the score, but the whole game,' Michel added. 'We played better than the score suggests.' Doubtless he was taking into account a few flashes of inspiration, but surely the general impression had not escaped him.

As for Salenko, his day could hardly have been better. 'I didn't think about the record, I didn't know what it was,' he said. 'It is a good feeling. Now that so many Russian players are in other countries it is important to take the chance of showing up well on television.' Salenko did not refer to his contract with Valencia, but a safe bet is that he had it mind.

RUSSIA (5-4-1): Cherchesov (Dynamo Dresden); Nikiforov, Ternavsky, Khlestov (all Spartak Moscow), Tetradze (Dynamo Moscow), Onopko; Karpin (both Spartak Moscow), Korneyev (Espanol), Tsymbalar, Ledyakhov (both Spartak Moscow); Salenko (Valencia). Substitutes: Radchenko (Racing Santander) for Korneyev, 65; Beschastnykh (Spartak) for Ledyakhov, 78.

CAMEROON (4-2-4): Songo'o (Metz); Kalla (Canon Yaounde), Tataw, Agbo, N'Dip Akem (all Olympic Mvolye); Libih (Al Ohud), Kana-Biyick (Le Havre); Omam-Biyick (Lens), Embe (Belenenses), Mfede, Foe (both Canon Yaounde). Substitutes: Milla (Tonnerre Yaounde) for Mfede, h/t; Tchami (Odense) for Embe, 48.