Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl) Mon 11 February 2008
African Cup of Nations: The Final Round-up
The 2008 African Cup of Nations came to a thrilling end last night and we now know who the champions are, but we have work to do here by giving you a recap on what happened in the two semi-finals plus that all-important Final.
Ghana v Cameroon As far as the hosts were concerned, this was the big one. A do-or-die clash with a Cameroon side whose legend preceded them would test Ghana to the limits, yet Cameroon had proved they were entirely beatable after a couple of performances in which they'd failed to convince the neutrals.
The two sides were very evenly matched when they faced each other last Thursday and neither made the best of starts as some poor passing put paid to any decent attacks in the first half. That said, Ghana looked the more threatening and were it not for a stronger midfield they could have a grabbed a goal or two.
Cameroon, however, were not outplayed and even managed to hit the Ghanaian crossbar in the 21st minute through an Achille Emana shot. But it was the home team that seemed to be in the ascendancy overall with several chances going unconverted near the hour mark, and as has happened with other teams in this competition, they were made to pay for their sloppyness.
On 71 minutes, Alain Nkong scored what turned out to be the winner when a three-man counter-attack caught the Ghanaian defence napping. It still wasn't the end of the game for the Black Stars, though, and Junior Agogo had two more great chances to score before the game was up, but again they failed to result in a goal.
And so it was that Cameroon scraped through to victory while the plucky Ghanaians were left ejected from their own tournament. They'd done well to get as far as they could, although some will say they could or should have reached the Final. Instead, that honour fell to a Cameroon side that looked like they were gradually running out of steam. Would the Final come too late for them?
Ivory Coast v Egypt If anyone was in any doubt that the remaining four teams in the tournament didn't deserve to be there, this second semi-final proved them wrong. Once again, two very strong teams went into battle for the right to play Cameroon in Sunday's Final, only this encounter would have more goals to offer the casual observer.
Egypt changed tack when pitted up against Ivory Coast. They figured that The Elephants would need to be out-muscled if victory was to be theirs, so a change was adopted and the results were quickly forthcoming. After an early effort from Didier Drogba was saved, Ahmed Fathi sneaked a goal in from a corner that hadn't been cleared at the other end to make it 1-0 to Egypt.
A vigorous exchange of shots ensued over the next half an hour and Ivory Coast were dealt a cruel blow when goalkeeper Boubacar Barry had to be replaced with the inexperienced Stephan Loboue due to injury just before half time. Sensing a need to regroup, Ivory Coast threw everything into a late attack but two chances in quick succession were brilliantly saved by Essam Al-Hadari who therein staked his claim as one of the tournament's best goalkeepers.
More of the same happened early in the second half when Al-Hadari made another great save from Didier Drogba and then from a Arthur Boka free-kick.
Frustrated at not finding the net, Ivory Coast allowed Egypt to score a second through Amr Zaki after 62 minutes, but this only prompted The Elephants to come back stronger when Kader Keita scored with a screamer from 25 yards out to make it 2-1 only seconds later.
Ivory Coast weren't back in the game for long, though, as Zaki made it 3-1 after 67 minutes, and with Drogba's side throwing everything into attack in the search for goals, it came as no surprise when Egypt finished off a comprehensive victory in stoppage time thanks to Mohamed Aboutrika. The final score was 4-1 to Egypt and on this form, few would bet against them retaining the trophy they won in 2006, but that would all depend on how Cameroon performed in the Final.
Final Egypt v Cameroon If the Egyptians were ready for the physical might of Ivory Coast in the semis, they'd have more of the same to deal with in the Final from Cameroon, along with a decidedly defensive approach that would make them difficult to break down.
In the first half, both teams furtively tried their luck with a series of shots designed to see how awake the opposition were but no goals were forthcoming. It wasn't until the second half that either side upped the ante, and then it was Cameroon who played a quicker, more assertive style of play which only forced Egypt onto the attack themselves.
Amr Zaki and Abd-Rabou both went close with decent shots that were well matched with great saves from Cameroon goalkeeper Carlos Kameni, but the cracks were starting to show when Abd-Rabou hit the post just after an hour of play. It was a sign of things to come, and when Rigobert Song failed to clear the ball from defence with 13 minutes remaining, Mohamed Zidan stole the ball and gave it to a grateful Mohamed Aboutrika who put the ball in the net and won the game for Egypt.
Song himself had a chance to equalise in stoppage time but his header went well over the bar, so victory went to The Pharoahs 1-0 who can now claim to have won the African Cup of Nations a record six times.
It was a suitably exciting end to a competition which had been great to watch and had produced a record 99 goals - more than any other. All the colour and passion we'd been expecting had been there over the last three weeks and no-one could have been disappointed by what they'd seen.
Egypt were crowned worthy winners last night, but the tournament itself had been a great success too. Well done to Ghana and indeed all the competing teams and let's hope Egypt get the chance to represent Africa at the next World Cup as successfully as they had done here.