African Nations Cup: Egypt defends title!

EGYPT 1, CAMEROON 0

If you want a play-by-play recap – visit Greg Lalas’ live-blog over at the New York Times blog “GOAL”. It was a tight one to the very end, but Mohamed Aboutraika found an opening thanks to a scrum in Cameroon’s box to slot one past Kameni and put Cameroon on the backtrack. The biggest surprise of the game was Samuel Eto’o being left alone up front as Egypt effectively closed down the wings and no real game was being created in the middle. Eto’o was kept quiet tactically and Egypt created several chances on the counter-attack. Mohamed Zidan was the unsung hero for the Pharaohs – doing all the work in the box before he was able to poke it Aboutraika who was left open amidst all the confusion. Zidan’s work throughout the game created several chances for Egypt. It was veteran centreback Rigobert Song that helped Zidan create that chance as Song – former Liverpool defender – attempted a clearance not once, but twice!, and failed to get it out. Zidan came rushing in, tangled Song up, and found Aboutraika open on the near flank. Song had an event in the 70th minute that was just as embarassing, but it didn’t lead to much. Either way, the signs were there…and Egypt pounced.

Throughout, Egypt opted for the team approach – no real stars, just concerted, effective play. Mohamed Zidan – their biggest scoring threat – was kept to only 2 goals for the tournament but he created a hell of a lot more. Hosny Abd Rabo, Mohamed Aboutreika, and Amr Zaky all tied for second on the African Nations Cup scoring leaderboard with 4. Ghana took third place with a 4-2 win over the Ivory Coast. One of Steve Goff’s loyal Soccer Insider reader’s was in Cairo for the game viewing and festivities afterward – read his account here.

It is Egypt’s 6th African Nations Cup title and the first to repeat since Cameroon in 2000/2002 (before that, there wasn’t a repeat since Ghana in 1963/1965). With the win, the Pharaohs will fill the CAF slot at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa along with Italy (2006 World Cup champ), South Africa (HOST), the United States (Gold Cup champ), Iraq (Asian Cup winner), and Brazil (2007 Copa America winner). There are two slot left to be filled – the winner of the 2008 EURO Championship and the 2008 OFC Nations Cup both which will take place soon.

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African Nations Cup: The Final is Set! Egypt vs. Cameroon.

And believe it or not, it’s a surprise to many. That’s odd considering it is the defending champions – Egypt – vs. Cameroon, a common participant in the African Cup of Nations final.

Think about the strength and consistency of both Ivory Coast and Ghana this tournament. Ghana had the host nation effect working for it, while Ivory Coast seemed to pick apart each defense it went up against with a blend of established attacking defenders in Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue, a big target man in Didier Drogba, defensive strength in the midfield – Yaya Toure and Dider Zokora, and a creative force in the middle – Salomon Kalou. A 4-1 loss to Egypt is not what people expected…

EGYPT 4, IVORY COAST 1 – ANC Semifinal

The Pharaohs took advantage of a 12th minute strike from Ahmed Fathi to effectively cancel out any momentum the Ivory Coast might have had coming into this game. It looked to anger Drogba and his teammates as they started pouring on the pressure, but Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El Hadari kept the game 1-0 by stopping Drogba on three separate occasions. Egypt then took control after half-time – playing a frustrating perimeter game – which would allow the wing midfielders to crack shots from the outside testing sub goalkeeper Stephan Loboue who came on for injured starting keeper Boubacar Barry before halftime. El Hadari continued to hold Drogba and company at bay, until Egypt – led by Amr Zaki – finally broke through. Zaki put one in off the crossbar after yet another poorly defender corner kick. Lyon’s Kader Keita pulled one back less than a minute later to briefly surprise the Egyptian defense. But Zaki stood tall and this time finished an individual effort off yet another post to give Egypt that 2 goal lead again and in the process frustrate Ivory Coast’s attempts to get back in the game. The game was clinched when Mohamed Zidan – otherwise quiet all game – broke free and found Mohamed Aboutriaka wide open enough to put the ball in the back of the net and put Egypt back in the finals.

ANC: Another former MLS player outshines Junior Agogo to give Cameroon win

Alain Nkong has been journeyman his whole career (a still young one at that, only 28 years old). He was in his native Cameroon for a while, then Portugal, Spain, Portugal again, then Uruguay, and then the Colorado Rapids. While with the Rapids, he played well enough to be kept around for a couple years (5 goals in 33 appearances) but the tall attacking midfielder was finally waived heading into the 2007 season. From there he linked up with Atlante (MEX), where he helped them to the 2007 Apertura Title. And what many people forget is that Nkong is the unsung hero of the Cameroonian national team. He has struck for 9 goals in 21 games before today…

CAMEROON 1, GHANA 0 – ANC SEMIFINAL

The Indomitable Lions didn’t need Samuel Eto’o to pull them through this time as Alain Nkong did his best, striking late in the game (71st minute) after coming in the 62nd to provide Cameroon with their first shot at a African Cup of Nations championship since 2002. In doing so, the former Rapid knocked out a Ghanaian host squad that many thought were locked favorites at least for the final. As I say often, you can’t argue with Essien and Muntari in the middle, but Ghana was lacking a true target man today (yes, even Junior Agogo couldn’t pull off continued heroics). Unfortunately, the Lions – despite the victory – will be missing Reading centreback Andre Bikey after he was sent off in the 90th minute for – and listen to this – pushing over a FIRST-AID ASSISTANT while he/she was attending to his own teammate. He can’t be that dumb – please tell me it was accidental and the ref just jumped the gun????

Now we await the score of Egypt vs. Ivory Coast, which is set to kick off at 3:30 EST.

Can’t watch the game? African Nations Cup Semi-Finals Reading Material

GHANA vs. CAMEROON (Feb 7 2008)

Host nation led by Essien against the ANC’s all-time goal scoring champion Samuel Eto’o and the Indomitable Lions.

FIFA.com’s “fans in a frenzy”

BBC Sport – Home Advantage?

“Goal”/New York Times – In Africa, the Goal is the Thing (Greg Lalas)

Cameroon manager Otto Pfister locked out – ESPN SoccerNet

Goal.com- LeRoy Promises Warrior-Like Performance

A Tale of Two Coaches – ModernGhana.com

SkySports – Interest Grows in hot Agogo

IVORY COAST vs. EGYPT (Feb 7 2008)

Didier Drogba, Solomon Kalou, and Kolo Toure against the defending champions. It is a rematch of the 2006 African Nations Cup final (Egypt won on penalties).

Eurosport – Revenge for Ivory Coast?

Drogba, Eto’o – Why African Dictators Fear Football (Charles Onyango Obbo)

Drogba Saga Just Another Example of CAF Bungling (Johannesburg Business Day)

Final Four Promise Exciting Contests – International Herald Tribune (Greg Lalas)

African Cup of Nations: Agogo strikes again, puts Ghana in the semis

Today’s games: Egypt vs. Angola, Tunisia vs. Cameroon 

Ghana 2, Nigeria 1

Yakubu put the Nigerians up after a harsh Eric Addo tackle at the 35 minute mark. The starpower of Ghana took over after that – starting with Michael Essien’s equalizer at the stroke of half-time. Then in the 60th minute, Ghana’s captain John Mensah gave Nigeria exactly what they needed, a stroke of good fortune. The big Rennes defender was ejected after a last-man foul on Peter Odemwingie. The fortune wasn’t about to last as former MLS player Junior Agogo took over, tapping in a Sulley Muntari effort to push Ghana through to the semis.

Ivory Coast 5, Guinea 0

It was a reality check for the Guineans as Didier Drogba, Kader Keita, and Solomon Kalou took turns knifing through the Guinean defense. All three combined for 4 of the 5 goals. Bakary Kone added the fifth. It was clearly a disappointing end to a decent tournament for the Guineans but ultimately Ivory Coast proved they deserve the finals.

African Nations Cup Quarterfinals Set: Some EPL Clubs Sigh with Relief

A couple big absences in the second round – Morocco, Mali, and Senegal. This means good things for some EPL clubs. Senegal’s Diomansy Kamara is going to be returning to a very different Fulham as his the whole frontline – which he is a part of – has been transformed. Kamara will now face off with Eddie Johnson, David Healy, Clint Dempsey, Shefki Kuqi, Erik Nevland, and Jari Litmanen for the two striker positions. Portsmouth will get their midfield talisman Papa Bouba Diop back, a necessity as Chelsea faces Pompey next.

The biggest winner will be La Liga’s Sevilla as they regain the services of their second most potent striker option in Frederic Kanoute (as Luis Fabiano remains on fire) and also Seydou Keita. Mohamed Sissoko, on the other hand, will report to his new club Juventus.

And yet the African Nation’s Cup trucks on with some great match-ups coming up this weekend. See below…

Sunday, February 3rd

Ghana vs. Nigeria
Ivory Coast vs. Guinea

Monday, February 4th

Egypt vs. Angola
Tunisia vs. Cameroon

African Cup of Nations: Second Round of Games done with Ghana and the Ivory Coast moving on

Today’s Matches (first batch of Round Three match-ups):

Ghana 2, Morocco 0

Starpower took over as both Michael Essien and Sulley Ali Muntari scored to dispatch of Morocco, who will be kicking themselves for the loss to Guinea. Both goals were scored in the first half and booked the host nation in the second round with a perfect 3-0-0 record. In no way was it dominant round-robin performance, but Ghana is certainly a heavy favorite.

Guinea 1, Namibia 1

After their showings against Morocco and Ghana, one would almost expect against Namibia but one point was enough to get the Guineans through. For those seeing Guinea as a complete dark horse, they have made the quarterfinals of the ANC for the third consecutive time. Souleymane Youla scored Guinea’s goal in the 61st minute, while Brian Brendell came back 20 minutes later to tie it up.

FULL STANDINGS

Quick Round Up of Game Twos

GROUP D 

Angola 3, Senegal 1

One word: Manucho. Angola’s striker has made it three in two games and really warranted a big European transfer. There is still a lot of tournament to go, however, and Angola is in no way safe. Their cause was helped by Manucho’s brace…

Tunisia 3, South Africa 1

Pretty embarassing defeat for the Bafana Bafana. Then again, they’re playing with a very young team…and playing against an established striker like Santos of Ligue 1’s Toulouse. The Tunisian scored two of his nation’s three goals and put the North African squad tied at the top with Angola.

GROUP C

Cameroon 5, Zambia 1

Samuel Eto’o equaled the record for most goals scored overall in the African Nation’s Cup, but the Barca striker was overshadowed by his teammates who put on a show for the crowd. Joseph Job scored a brace while Newcastle fullback Geremi found the net as well. Toulouse’s Achille Emana added one as well, putting Cameroon back in the mix for qualification.

Egypt 3, Sudan 0

Mohamed Zidan was dangerous yet again and with the attention he was getting, his teammates found the openings they needed to put one the Pharoahs’ feet into the next round. Mohamed Aboutraika struck for two and Hosni Abd Rabou converted the first of the night (his third of the tournament).

GROUP B

Ivory Coast 4, Benin 1

The only outright quarterfinal qualifier came on the backs of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Kader Keita, and Aruna Dindane. All four scored to put the Ivory Coast through in authoritative fashion. The win puts them as my favorites to win.

Nigeria 0, Mali 0

In a hard-fought deadlock, Nigeria will be wondering why their star-studed strike force is sputtering at the moment. Obafemi Martins and John Utaka haven’t been able to find one goal as of yet and Nigeria sits in third with only 1 point out of two games. Mali sits in second with 4 and looks the favorite to go through as Benin is their last opponent.

GROUP A

See earlier post…