Football / World Cup USA '94: Lions lie in wait for roaring Romario: Ken Jones reports on a Brazilian bristling with hubris who is aiming to overcome Cameroon

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The Independent Online
GIVE Romario half a chance and he will burn off your ears with ego. In his mind he's better than very good, he's brilliant. On being acquainted with Pele's statement that Brazil are bound to suffer for the absence of an outstanding attacker, Romario metaphorically spat in the face of an icon. 'Who is interested in the opinions of a geriatric?' is more or less what he could be heard saying.

Solemn witnesses to this outburst are now waiting for Romario to deliver, immediately at the Stanford Stadium in San Francisco where Brazil can today advance their cause in the World Cup by defeating Cameroon.

In the circumstances, it was hardly a stunning suprise when Romario emphasised the extent of his importance. 'This is my World Cup,' he said, boldly. 'Nobody is closer to the yearning of the Brazilian people, nobody is more likely to fulfil their dreams.'

Classically, a product of the barrios, Romario must know from history how irrationally his compatriots will receive another disappointment, but negative thoughts do not figure in his nature. In considering the threat that Romario carries, thinking technically, the Cameroon coach, Henri Michel, regards him as a pest; skilful, busy, unpredictable. 'It is not easy to plan against such players,' he said. Loosely translated from Michel's native tounge this means that Romario does not correspond to standard attacking procedures.

If there is more to Brazil than Romario there is more to Cameroon than the stature they gained in Italy four years ago. In fact, Michel sometimes must wonder why he bothered. Special credit for this belongs to the Cameroon Football Federation which has been conspicuous in its failure to honour promises to the players.

When Cameroon drew with Sweden at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena earlier this week, Michel referred to lack of concentration. He concedes that if the failing persists against Brazil it could prove fatal; a quick exit for the Indomitable Lions of 1990. 'It is no good thinking that skill alone will get us through,' Michel said. 'We should have beaten Sweden even though they played extremely well and with a lot patience. Our players must understand that the game is played for 90 minutes and with the brain as well as the heart.'

Michel has taken pains to ensure that Cameroon will not easily be caught out by by Romario and his striking partner, Bebeto, and speaks confidently of containing Brazil in midfield. 'They cleverly alter the tempo of a game,' he said, 'coming at you when you least expect it, so we must be on guard.'

In any event, Michel should be aware of the description Jupp Derwall applied to this quality in 1982 as manager of what was then West Germany. When the Germans were defeated 1-0 in Rio by a goal in the 84th minute, Derwall said, 'These people play with a hand grenade behind their backs.'

If Brazil do not match up to that generation of footballers they proved against Russia that they are still capable of similar detonations. Romario's goal in a 2-0 victory utterly confused Russia's goalkeeper, Dimitri Kharin. 'From where he was, the way he was coming in, it seemed impossible that Romario could shoot to my left side,' he said. 'But somehow he managed to do it and it left me with no chance. He is an exceptional player.'

Naturally, Romario is in full agreement. Having elected himself to the pantheon of Brazilian football, he concedes to nobody. A disruptive influence in the dressing- room, independent and stubborn, Romario likes to make his own rules. The Brazil coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, has never been sure about Romario's temperament but cannot deny his gifts.

Parreira has let it be known that he thinks Romario to be important, which is clearly important to Romario. 'It is nice that Parreira appreciates what I do for Brazil,' he said, sarcastically. A tenuous relationship between coach and manager is part of the relationship, too. 'Who knows, perhaps this is the only way for us,' Parreira said philosophically.

As for Michel, having famously fallen out with Eric Cantona and lost his job through it, he knows what trouble looks like. At a guess, he would swap with Parreira willingly.

The Cameroon government sent a minister to California yesterday to settle a pay dispute with the country's World Cup squad and avert a strike. The players, who say they have not been paid for two months and apparently rejected an offer of dollars 535,000 ( pounds 356,000) this week, are threatening not to play against Brazil.

BRAZIL: Taffarel (Reggiana); Jorginho (Bayern Munich), Aldair (Roma), Marcio Santos (Bordeaux), Leonardo (Sao Paulo), Mauro Silva (Deportivo La Coruna), Dunga (VfB Stuggart), Zinho (Palmeiras), Rai (Paris St-Germain), Bebeto (Deportivo La Coruna), Romario (Barcelona).

CAMEROON (probable): Bell (St-Etienne); Libih (Al Ohud), Song Bahanag (Tonnerre Yaounde), Kalla (Canon Yaounde), Agbo (Olympic Mvolye), Tataw (Olympic Mvolye), Mfede (Canon Yaounde), M'Bouh (Al Nadi), Vivien Foe (Canon Yaounde), Embe (Belenenses), Omam-Biyik (Lens).