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)