Substitute Nicolas Nkoulou leveled for the indomitable Lions before Vicente Aboubakar netted the winner. Egypt lost their second final, having lost the first in 1962.
The indomitable Lions of Cameroon were crowned Champions of the 31st edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, their fifth title in the history of the biennial tournament. The West Africans denied the North Africans, Egypt, an eighth title to close the gap on the title tallies between the two African football giants.
Many had fancied Senegal, Ivory Coast (because of their star studied squads), Morocco (perhaps because of their coach’s history) and later on Egypt to win the championship. However, the inexperienced Cameroon side, described as a “group of friends” by Coach Hugo Broos proved there was more to the championship than just the star names, experience and history.
Hector Cuper and his squad were by far a stronger side by history, having last lost to Cameroon in 2002 AFCON quarter finals. Egypt had not lost a final with their last having come a long way back in in 1962 when they were defeated by hosts Ethiopia after extra Time.
It was a repeat of the 2008 AFCON finals and the fact that they have won the Championship the most, a record seven times, it would have been unwise to tip Cameroon ahead of the Pharaohs.
Following the withdrawal of eight players from the squad due to Broos’ endeavors to stamp discipline in the squad, Cameroon hopes looked slim and it had to be beyond just the level of the Competition they could put up for the West African side to trek the distance there was.
When I came to Cameroon I found a group of players who were old and not motivated,” Broos said.
“So, I took some new players, put some young players in and we started working. I did a good job and now we have a team. This is not a group of football players: it’s a group of friends and that’s why players on the bench keep their motivation.”
Cameroon, who progressed in second place, edged by goal difference but level on points with Burkina Faso (five), the least by all teams that progressed to the quarters were considered the odd team.
After defeating Morocco who were being considered favorites for a number of factors at the quarter finals, it would have been unwise not to place them first at the table of men, which had three West Africans left at the round four.
However, Cameroon’s 2-0 defeat of Ghana (one of the favorites) at the Semis seemed to echo something different, especially when Egypt who were yet to concede in the Championship had to progress after penalties. It started was becoming clear that teams had mastered how to score against them.
And in the final, it wasn’t any different when the eventual champions came from a goal down to score two past the legendary goalkeeper, Essam El Hadary. The character instilled in the Cameroon team by Hugo Broos had finally eroded the weathering loads of history and advantage the Egyptians held.
Egypt scored first in the first half when Mohamed Elneny found loads of space in Cameroon’s defense to place the ball past Fabrice Ondoa’s near post, perhaps exposing the inexperience of the Cameroon group at the stage. Looking at the defensive lapses that led to the first goal, it created an impression, coupled by the firepower the North Africans possessed that the Egyptians were going to easily get past Cameroon for their eighth.
Watch the Mohamed Elneny goal against cameroon
But, the stealth and will power the Cameroon side exhibited was enough to defy all odds. In the second half, Cameroon exhibited a level of competitiveness that started by neutralizing Egypt’s advantage in the 59th minute when substitute Nicolas Nkoulu’ headed in the equalizer.
The Egyptians played most of the second half in split spaces, trying to go for the long balls, but the pace of Christian Bassogog and a well taken second goal, two minutes from stoppage time, by Vicente Aboubakar ensured that the indomitable Lions exerted revenge upon the Egyptians Pharaohs in a repeat of the 2008 finals.
It was sad to see Egypt lose the final especially when considering their squad and the psychological edge they carried against the young Cameroon side. But the fact that they had not participated in the tournament for the previous three editions, would not have been fair for the West Africans, and African football in principle.
In the tournament, where nine of the sixteen participants where from West Africa, Egypt’s triumph would have described the west Africans’ efforts as fruitless. In the other part of the would have been ‘bad history’ to the tournament, Egypt had won three championships in a row before political turmoil could prevent them from participating again. Winning the eighth on their eventual return would have had a ripple effect on the other participating teams, and maybe everything needed to get back to normal after all. Oh! Perhaps Cuper’s curse played a part at the right time.
Crowned champions of the African continent, Cameroon now await the Confederations Cup test where they will play against South American champions, Chile, European champions, Germany and Asian Football Confederation champions, Australia.