Cameroon clinched their fifth African Cup of Nations title after overturning a one-goal deficit with a last gasp winner.
Hugo Broos was faced with a conundrum at the beginning of the tournament after seven players, including the likes of Joel Matip and Eric Choupo-Moting, snubbed the chance to don the jersey and represent their team in Gabon. On the other hand, Egypt were looking to extend their 24 game unbeaten run in the tournament (20 wins and 4 draws) since their 2-1 defeat against Algeria in 2004.
Many expected it to be a cagey affair with both teams sitting back and waiting on the other to attack. Egypt were the first to dispel that assumption in the first few minutes of the game after Salah slipped the ball behind the defence for El Said, but Ondoa’s reflexes denied an early goal for The Pharaohs. Regardless of the prior scare, Cameroon gained control of the ball, with Egypt happily letting them do so while restricting them to long shots, which the Indomitable Lions’ attackers routinely wasted.
A breakthrough materialised in the 22nd minute when the Egyptian players linked up brilliantly down the right hand flank as Salah and El Mohamady interchanged a series of passes between one another. One of those passes found Mohamed Elneny who was in acres of space behind the defence. The Arsenal midfielder took a few touches, adjusted his body and slammed the ball from a tight angle into the roof of the net to put his side 1-0 ahead. Fabrice Ondoa would be disappointed after conceding at his near post.
The towering defensive partnership of Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazy repelled incoming deliveries from the likes of Moukandjo and Bassogog for a sizable chunk of the half. However, the ones that managed to avoid the behemoths exposed one of Egypt’s weak points: El Hadary’s inability to deal with crosses. The veteran goalkeeper made two blunders that could have led to Cameroon taking the lead late in the first half, failing to punch or catch these noteworthy opportunities.
Smelling blood in the water, Cameroon’s tactics were to get the ball out to the wing and deliver crosses into the box to make El Hadary uncomfortable. Egypt were happy to soak up the pressure and Gabr and Hegazy continued to thwart any efforts coming their way. Rather than their goalkeeper’s performance over the course of the tournament, perhaps it was their defensive alliance that was the reason behind The Pharaohs only conceding one goal before the Final.
Egypt presumably believed that their defence would be air tight for the remainder of the game, but Moukandjo had other ideas. After receiving the ball on the left wing, he cut inside onto his right foot and delivered n exquisite cross towards the leaping Nkoulou (who replaced an injured Teikeu in the first half) and planted his header into the back of the net. Suddenly, the entire tone of the game evolved, becoming more open as the game advanced towards the 90 minute mark and the players were encouraged by the exhilarating cheers from the fans around the stadium.
Moukandjo continued to churn out cross after cross in hope of locating one of his teammates in the box. He once again found Nkoulou, but he could only steer his header on the wrong side of the post. Vincent Aboubakar, who came on for the ineffectual Ndip Tambe at half time, and Egypt’s Salah both dazzled spectators with sublime touches and footwork, but a shot on target appeared too difficult to come by. Preoccupied by the thought of scoring the match-winning goal, Jacques Zoua squandered a fantastic opportunity to go ahead when he struck a tame shot wide instead of passing to a teammate in a 4-on-3 situation.
Egypt were happy to sit back and let the clock run down, but this tactic backfired and proved to be their downfall. In the closing minutes of the game, Siani received the ball from deep in his own half and launched it forward. Vincent Aboubakar controlled it with his chest, chipped it over Gabr and smashed it past El Hadary. If there was ever a way to score the winning goal in a cup final, an elegant finish is doubtlessly the best way to do it.
Say what you want about the quality of this year’s Cameroonian side, they managed to pull of a historic victory and exhibited why they are once again Indomitable.