Ivory Coast’s forward Gervinho celebrates with captain Didier Drogba after scoring his team’s second goal against Japan at the Pernambuco Arena in Recife during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 14, 2014. Today, African players are sought after by the most prestigious clubs and leagues in the world. AFP

Ivory Coast’s forward Gervinho celebrates with captain Didier Drogba after scoring his team’s second goal against Japan at the Pernambuco Arena in Recife during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 14, 2014. Today, African players are sought after by the most prestigious clubs and leagues in the world. AFP

It was Friday June 8, 1990. I was 12 years old and had never watched a televised live soccer match before.

At the Giuseppe Maezza Stadium in Milan, Italy, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, “a humble team with an insignificant past” to quote the Miami Herald, defeated Argentina, the star-studded defending World Champions led by Diego Maradona, in a thrilling Italia ’90 World Cup opening game that came to be known as the “Miracle of Milan.”

Before the game, the international media, football enthusiasts and bookmakers had written off the Indomitable Lions even though eight years earlier they had exited the Espana ’82 World Cup unbeaten, including a memorable 1-1 tie with eventual World Cup winners Italy.

The Indomitable Lions were superb at the tournament and put African football firmly on the footballing map, and they did it in the most colourful fashion, adorned in a bright outfit from Adidas. Cameroon beat Argentina — the world champions — because they dared to dream.

Dreams come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us quietly dream of one day giving up our jobs to pursue a passion we’ve long kept hidden. Others dream on a grand scale about changing the world — if only they had a chance.

But how many people have the courage to go after their dreams, no matter how big or small? Instead, many of us sleep-walk through each day when we could seize the opportunity each new morning brings and live the life we’ve always wanted.

A sizeable percentage of the Kenyan population plays the lottery. I recently wrote about how so many of us play the Safaricom Shinda Mamilii lottery game, even when the odds of winning are 22 million to one.

Why do so many people play such long odds?

The answer is: It gives them an opportunity to dream. People are willing to invest in dreams, even when they know the odds are against them. But here is the clincher; organisations can shape their employees’ dreams; and when the dreams are exciting and the odds are believable, employees will dramatically increase their investments in making them come true.

Conversely, when the dreams are mundane and lack credibility, employees disconnect and pull back on their investment. Previous sub-Saharan African qualifications for the World Cup had been viewed as jokes or worse through a racist lens in the Western press. In 1982, Cameroon was mocked as being unfit to compete in a World Cup. One English tabloid wrote “this shitty nation goes out without being too horribly embarrassed by bigger countries.”

However, by the end of Italia 1990 the long-held perception of Africa as a football laughing stock was jettisoned forever. In fact, Cameroon’s World Cup run foretold a New World Order in which African players would be sought after by the most prestigious clubs and leagues on the globe.

Once upon a time, in a land far, you had a dream for your life. What happened? Maybe you are living it; congratulations to you. But if you aren’t can you figure out why not?

Maybe you pursued a dream and things didn’t work out the way you wanted. Maybe life got in the way. It’s possible that you decided to follow a practical path or the road you thought people wanted you to follow. It’s possible you were unfortunate enough to be surrounded by people who questioned your dreams and that desire inside you was snuffed out like a candle’s flame.

I certainly hope it doesn’t take you until 60 to follow your dream. But if it does, I would still rather you spent your life pursuing your passion than settle for something less.

Or better still, just remember the “miracle of Milan!”