[FOUNTAIN]Indomitable lion, morning calm

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[FOUNTAIN]Indomitable lion, morning calm

Well after midnight on May 24, a sudden burst of cheers split the air at the arrival lounge of Fukuoka International Airport in Japan. It was the roar of 600 football fans welcoming the Cameroon national team, dubbed the "Indomitable Lions."

The reception was well deserved. A squabble over the team's wages for participating in the tournament had kept their arrival on hold for five days past the original schedule.

That was on top of the two refueling stops between France and Japan that kept the cramped and shabby plane airborne, not to mention the emergency landing at Bangkok because the plane had failed to get overflight permission from the Vietnamese and Cam-bodian governments. The Germans covered the distance in 10 hours, yet the Lions barely made it in 40. The jittery fans were understandably delighted to see them at last.

Most of the late-night crowd were supporters of striker Patric Mmboma, 32. Japan is essentially his third home. The first is his native Cameroon, and the next is France, where he lived after his parents brought him there at the age of 2. Mmboma currently holds both French and Cameroonian passports.

It was through his play in the Japanese J-League that he came to the world's attention. Hence, the reason for his affinity with the country. Having been a pawn on his French home turf, he gained queen status in 1997 through his brilliant play with the club G. Osaka. His untamed instincts and awesome athleticism brought him the Golden Shoe Trophy two years in a row, earning him the tag "Black Panther."

"Allowing a player of such brilliance on the field is in itself a foul," lamented the Japanese idol Nakata Hidetoshi. During his stay in Japan, Mmboma pushed himself to communicate directly with his fans by learning Japanese and hosting autograph events for hours on end. He loved sushi and enjoyed sending used uniforms and soccer cleats to young footballers in his native Cameroon.

Riding on his successes in Japan, he was able to win a bid from a European team. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he became a national hero by leading Cameroon to an unprecedented gold medal.

This man now is coming to Korea. A contract has reportedly been signed with a local sports management company, and as the first truly world-class athlete on our turf, we anticipate that the Black Panther will continue his amazing tale.

The writer is the popular culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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