Story: Maurice Quansah
Call it a tale of two goalies, both agile on the day. One was inconsolable as he lay on the turf face down, while the other was on cloud nine after 90 minutes of football.
Cameroun goalie Carlos Idriss Kameni put up a magnificent show yesterday but failed to prevent Mohamed Aboutrika from scoring the goal that handed Egypt a 1-0 win and a record sixth Africa Cup of Nations title.
Egyptian goalie Essam El-Hadary had been spectacular throughout the tournament and yesterday he ensured that Cameroun’s attackers were kept at bay as he kept a clean sheet to win his second successive winners’ medal. At the height of his excitement, El-Hadary jumped and sat on the goal post while he savoured another historic achievement.
Egypt are African champions again for the sixth time, and in raising the bar of continental football excellence, the Pharaohs stopped the Indomitable Lions from achieving a record-equalling fifth title.
Abou Trika’s 76th minute goal tamed the Indomitable Lions who had displayed a big heart, soldiered on and roared into the final. But yesterday the Egyptians put up another a disciplined performance, just as they had done in their group clash on January 22.
Cameroun’s septuagenarian coach, Otto Pfister, and his veteran fighters had defied age and showed a strong will power in the march to yesterday’s final clash but youth and tactical discipline reigned when it mattered most.
Just as they did in their semi-final clash against Ghana, Cameroun soaked the pressure but at the most critical moment, Mohamed Zidan’s youthfulness reigned over the tired legs of Rigobert Song who fumbled with the ball and failed to make a timely clearance. Zidan, who had scored two breathtaking goals in Egypt’s 4-2 win over Cameroun in Kumasi, wrestled the ball from Song and squared a pass for Aboutrika to score what could be his most important goal and the tournament’s 99th.
A fitting reward it was for the aristocrats of Africa football who, on the day, enjoyed greater ball possession and the lion’s share of scoring chances. It was also a repeat of the 1986 final between the two sides when Egypt won their third continental trophy on home soil at the expense of Cameroun.
The Pharaohs looked the more organised and determined side to lift the trophy and they did just what was required to tame their ageing counterparts who refused to die until Aboutrika’s killer punch settled what has been described as the best Africa Cup of Nations tournament since 1957.
The Camerounians owe their first half survival much to the agility of goalkeeper Kameni who made several point-blank saves as the Egyptian attack went through the Lions’ defence much easier than was expected of the experienced and rugged defenders.
Aboutrieka underlined his status as one of the best players in Africa as he took control of the midfield, picking the ball from his half, running deep into the opponents’ half and creating scoring opportunities for himself and his team-mates.
The expected midfield battle between Aboutrieka and Cameroun’s Alexandre Song did not last long as Song was replaced early in the game after receiving a few knocks. His replacement, ginger-haired Augustin Binya, partnered Stephane Mbia to keep the Camerounian attacking machinery running.
Led in attack by three-time African Best Footballer, Samuel Eto’o, the Lions expected great things from the Barcelona striker. Twice in the 10th and 35th minutes Eto’o threatened to score but found goalkeeper El-Hadary unyielding in post.
It turned into a ding-dong battle, with Kameni making a save after save, while the Lions threatened sporadically. As the ageing Camerounian defenders — Skipper Rigobert Song, Thimothee Atouba, Geremi Njitap and Bill Tchato — found the Egyptian forward liners too swift, Kameni became the barrier that kept the Pharaohs from scoring. Kameni saved a seventh minute free kick and blocked Emad Mohammed’s shot from close range after a quick counter-attack by the Pharaohs who, seconds earlier, had nearly gone down after El-Hadary saved Geremi’s free kick.
Cameroun continued living dangerously and again needed a timely intervention by Kameni in the 36th minute to again deny Emad a goal after he had ghosted past Cameroun’s centre-backs, only to find in Kameni a barrier too high to scale.
Cameroun were not as indomitable as their name suggested; at best they looked more like cubs struggling to survive in the wild.
In the dying minutes of the game, Cameroun made desperate efforts to score. Eto’o often found himself surrounded by three markers, and with little help from his team-mates. When the attackers managed to get past their markers, El-Hadary was just too good on the day. He looked unruffled in post, even when the Camerounian defenders joined their front-line men in a desperate search for the equaliser.
Eto’o was virtually marked out and stripped of his terror and the only Cameroun threat came from substitute Mahamadou Iddrissou whose headers and shots went astray, much to their anguish but to the delight of the Egyptian fans and their Ghanaian supporters.
In the dying seconds of the game, Song almost atoned for his mistake when he rose to head Geremi’s measured cross but his header missed the crossbar by inches. It was too little, too late for them as Benin referee Koffi Codjia ended the game, amidst fanfare and a spectacular closing ceremony that heralded the coronation by President John Agyekum Kufuor of Africa’s football superpower.
It was their best performance in the tournament, but the Egyptians saved their best moment for yesterday at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium before a crowd of 35,000 that included FIFA President Joseph Sepp Blatter, CAF President Issa Hayatou and a world-wide TV audience of several hundreds of millions.