Final of grief and memory
Sunday 29 June 2003
At La Reine Astrid hotel in Lyon on Tuesday, the Cameroon squad and management had finished giving a press conference and had just eaten lunch. The players either drifted up to their rooms or milled about outside. The rising star Eric Djemba-Djemba was full of excitement about the forthcoming semi-final against Colombia, while Middlesbrough's Géremi went for a walk.
I had asked for an interview with Marc-Vivien Foé, to discuss his possible transfer from Olympique Lyonnais to Manchester City, where he spent last season on loan. However, the press officer for the African champions said politely that that would not be possible because Foé was not feeling at his best. It turned out had a upset stomach. Half an hour later I saw him out on the street, his massive frame dwarfing a friend as they chatted.
Two days later the 28-year-old died while playing in that Confederations' Cup semi-final against Colombia in Lyon, the city where the strong, purposeful midfielder won a league championship last year. He collapsed in the centre circle with 15 minutes of the game remaining and his country 1-0 in front, a lead they retained.
The cause of Foé's death has not yet been determined. There has also been much argument about the tournament schedule, with games every two days. In the neighbouring southern cities of Lyon and St-Etienne there has been atrocious heat, eight to 12 degrees above average for the time of year, even with 9pm kick-offs. But Foé was a fit man who had enjoyed five days' rest between his last two matches.
Yesterday Sepp Blatter, the president of world football's governing body, Fifa, rejected any suggestion that drugs could have been involved. He said that although the results of the post-mortem were still not known, he was sure that doping was not involved with the death of the Cameroon midfielder. Blatter said: "The suggestion is a cynical one. All the doping controls we have made in this competition have come back negative I am sure there will be no matter of drugs in this case."
Foé's Cameroon colleague, Rigobert Song, revealed later that his great friend had spoken powerfully at half-time, and as it turns out his words carried the cruellest twist. "Even if it means dying we must win this match," he said.
Foé was not a natural extrovert, preferring to go quietly about his business off the pitch, and to let his work do the talking on it, but he felt passionately about his country doing well.
The Cameroon squad took rather longer than Fifa to decide what to do about playing in tonight's final against France. Blatter decreed that the show must go on but, out of respect, there will be none of the razzmatazz that usually accompanies such events.
The Cameroon squad will try to honour Foé, the man who helped them reach three successive World Cups and to win the African Nations' Cup in 2000 and 2002. They will do it their own way, by wearing shirts with his name and squad number, 17. That was decided after they spent an emotional day at Foé's house in the Lyon suburb of Dardilly, with his brother Emmanuel. The footballer leaves behind a wife and three children, the youngest of whom was born two months ago.It is three days since Foé's death, and there has been continuous grieving, at Maine Road, his home city of Nkolo and the Paris camps of France and Cameroon. Thierry Henry started the tributes by dedicating his first goal in France's semi-final to Foé, pointing his finger to the sky.
There is now talk of naming this tournament after him in future, but his team-mate, the young goalkeeper Carlos Kameni, spoke for everyone when he said: "If God brings us victory it would be marvellous for Marco. If we win the Cup we will dedicate it to him."
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