Prophetic comment by Foé typical of ultimate team man

Fifa president adds to tributes as Cameroon prepare to play final with midfielder's name on every shirt
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The Independent Football

As statements go, Thursday's was swiftly prophetic. It was half-time in the sticky heat of Lyon's Stade Gerland and Marc-Vivien Foé was urging his Cameroon team-mates into one last effort to reach tomorrow's final of the Confederations Cup.

"Boys, even if it means dying on the pitch, we have to win this semi-final," Rigobert Song, who grew up with him in the Cameroon capital, Yaoundé, recalled Foé saying. Within half an hour, Foé was dead, having collapsed on that very pitch and, although it hardly seems to matter now, Cameroon made it to the final, beating Colombia 1-0.

"It's terrible, I have never lived through anything like it," Song said. "We shared so many things when we arrived in Europe together. For me, he was like a brother. We will pull ourselves together and try to win in memory of Marco. Seeing the reaction of the French players, I think it is better to play because we will make it a celebration of football. After that, we will take his body back to Cameroon and bury him."

Football too often surrenders to cheap emotionalism; a couple of seasons ago scarcely any Premiership match seemed to start without a moment's silence for someone or other, but Foé's death at the age of 28 has profoundly shocked the sport.

The Confederations Cup, an unnecessary competition played in what is usually a precious free month for footballers, was always a difficult one to defend and the world game's governing body, Fifa, was at pains to point out that Foé was not overplayed during the tournament, having sat out Cameroon's previous match.

A post mortem has ruled out a stroke, leaving a heart attack as the most probable cause of death. The day before the fateful match, Foé had been suffering from diarrhoea, although he had apparently recovered before kick-off. In the 71st minute, he collapsed and when the Cameroon doctor, Olivier Assamba, reached him, his eyes had rolled back in their sockets, which is usually a sign the patient is about to slip into a coma.

Inside four minutes, Foé was receiving treatment on the pitchside from a French doctor and was moved to the Stade Gerland's medical centre within six. It was decided to treat him there rather than take the player to hospital, but after he was given oxygen and an infusion, Foé's heart stopped 12-13 minutes after his collapse. Attempts to revive him using electric shocks, massage, intravenous treatment and the insertion of a tube for machine-assisted breathing all failed and at 8.20pm local time he was pronounced dead.

The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, yesterday met the Cameroon squad, holding hands as they formed a circle. He called Foé: "The type who sets examples, the prow of the ship." His speech was met with applause before the players travelled to Marcoussis, south of Paris, to prepare for the final against France.

Every Cameroon player tomorrow will wear a shirt with Foé's name on and all pre and post-match entertainment has been scrapped. The number 23 he wore in his season on loan at Manchester City will not be used again by the club, which has offered to do anything it can to help Foés widow and her three children, one of whom is two months old.

His death provided one final function for Maine Road; a shrine. Despite persistent rain over Moss Side, there was a flood of tributes, more perhaps than could have been expected for one who had spent just one season in Manchester. One message read: "Amazing, amusing, bewitching, confusing, frustrating, beguiling, leaving us smiling. City in one man".

Foé had the honour of scoring City's last goal at Maine Road and the club's manager, Kevin Keegan, who had been too upset to comment immediately after his death, had hoped to negotiate a permanent deal to bring him to the new City of Manchester Stadium.

Portsmouth, under Harry Redknapp, his manager during his one season at West Ham, were also confident of signing him, especially as they were offering a two, rather than a one-year deal. Redknapp had planned to call him after the semi-final with Colombia and had already sent him a fax.

Yesterday Keegan said of Foé: "We will miss his smile and his personality; nothing was ever too much trouble for Marco. He only missed two games all season and one of those was to be at the birth of his baby.

"You perhaps had to get to know Marco to fully enjoy his personality - certainly his dress sense - but he was universally liked. I will never forget the day I blasted him for not looking me in the eye and then the knock on the door that followed a few minutes later when he informed me that where he came from if you respected someone you did not look them in the eye."