Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cup Final Preview: Egypt vs. Cameroon




First off, congratulations to Ghana, who came from behind to claim a consolation third-place finish at the African Cup of Nations after beating Ivory Coast in a six-goal thriller, 4-2.

Sulley Muntari's swerving 25-yard free-kick gave Ghana the lead on 10 minutes before Ivorian Boubacar Sanogo hit back with a quick-fire brace.

Quincy Owusu-Abeyie equalized after half-time with a solo effort before Junior Agogo struck on 80 minutes.

Ghana's Hamanu Draman then sealed the win with a 25-yard shot on 85 minutes.

So after the tears of their semi-final loss to Cameroon, we get Ghana's joy of staging a terrific tournament and beating a skilled Ivorian squad for 3rd-place.



And as we can see above, some terrific dancing from Michael Essien and the rest of the squad!!

Good going!!

Nevertheless, the main event is tomorrow.

The Grand Finale between Egypt and Cameroon.

One one side, we have the defending champions, somewhat of a sleeper heading into the tournament. On the other, a squad fueled by the grace of striker Samuel Eto'o and the machinations of veterans such as Chelsea midfielder Geremi and defender Rigobert Song.

So who wins? I don't know. I haven't seen either side play.

Still, we have history to go by. The Pharaohs defeated Cameroon's Indomitable Lions 4-2 in Group C's opening game in Kumasi.

But midfielder Stephane Mbia said this helped: "We started slow, but losing to Egypt spurred us on to the final."

Egypt coach Hassan Shehata countered, "We are champions of Africa now and we hope to still be after the final."

"Cameroon are a big team, but we've already beaten them in this tournament and that is a good sign for us to produce a good result on Sunday. All my players are motivated, they want to keep the title to prove that we are truly the champions of Africa."

Cameroon coach Otto Pfister, who led Ghana to the 1992 final, reacted differently to their earlier loss to Egypt: "We've progressed match by match. Perhaps we started badly but we always know how to react."

Egypt seem to be peaking at the right time. And it's not like their earlier match against Cameroon was that tough for the Pharaohs. As the Guardian's Paul Doyle puts it:

... the fact is (Cameroon) were utterly dismantled, the Egyptians' clever passing and movement making the Indomitable Lions look oafish. While it's true that Cameroon have improved since then, largely thanks to the emergence of (youngster Alexandre) Song, so too have Egypt - not least because of the return to fitness of Mohammed Aboutreika, the Al Ahly playmaker whose balance, intelligence and probing have made him the classiest player of the tournament.

With their slick five-man midfield and smart attackers such as Amr Zaky and Mohamed Zidan, Egypt are experts at pulling teams apart. They won't constantly lob crosses into the box the way Ghana did, instead they will create holes and thread their way through them. Andre Bikey's suspension will make that task even easier. Wael Gomaa will shackle Samuel Eto'o and Hassan Shehata will become only the second manager to win back-to-back titles.


I think he likes Egypt in this tournament ... Also something to think about: Egypt have looked equally polished in defense and attack, with keeper Essam El Hadary in particularly good form. So they're a balanced, tricky side with few holes.

Also, they have the luxury of being healthy. Egypt skipper Shehata has a fit squad to choose from. Cameroon are sweating it out to see if Arsenal midfielder Alexandre Song recovers after being stretchered off at the end of the semi-final win over Ghana.

The young Song missed his side's final training session before the final to add to his coach's anxiety.

"The doctors reckon it's not serious. It's not a ligament problem," said the player's cousin and Cameroon captain Rigobert Song.

Cameroon are also missing Andre Bikey, the Reading defender who was sent off in the 90th minute in the semi-final for shoving a medical official tending a stricken team-mate.

So what do people in Ghana make of this unexpected final?

As writer Greg Lalas reports in today's New York Times Goal blog, not many people care.

“Cameroon-Egypt will not get people to the stadium,” Jerry Ayensu, a sports commentator for local channel Metro TV, said. “I mean, some will come, but there will be no atmosphere. You’ve seen Ghana games, how colorful, how loud, how much feeling in the Ohene Djan Stadium. Sunday will have very little of that.”

It is a final, though, so even if the Ghanaians are too saddened to care, other parts of the continent cannot wait. In Yaounde, the celebrating began right after the Indomitable Lions’ victory and will only ramp up on Sunday.

In Cairo, the traffic might actually subside for 90 minutes when everyone stops to watch the game. (There are events elsewhere, too. A friend working for an NGO in Juba, Sudan, has organized an educational match-viewing party. “We’ll watch some football and hand out some condoms to help fight the AIDS epidemic,” she said.)

What will be lacking in atmosphere, the Egyptian side might be able to make up for in performance. Coach Ali Hassan Shehata’s Pharaohs are awesome, capable of breathtaking creativity and teamwork. They calmly and collectively destroyed the impressive Ivorians the other night.

Striker Amr Zaky is a poacher and tricky playmaker Mohamed Aboutreika could be mistaken for a Brazilian. The attack has now notched 14 goals in five games, including a 4-2 drubbing in the group stage against the same Cameroonians they will meet on Sunday. In back, they are organized and goalkeeper Essem El-Hadary is right now my vote for the Golden Ball award.

With all these players, odds are the Egyptians will defend their title on Sunday and add to their record tally of five Nations Cup trophies.


I think he likes Egypt, too. Read the rest of the blog entry by Lalas to see his theory for why the Pharaoh's African Cup success doesn't seem to translate to World Cup success.

One theory? They're just too tired. The bulk of players on the national team make up the Al Alhy football club, the most successful club team in Africa.

As Lalas points out, 'With the Cup of Nations every two years — as opposed to every four, like the European Championship — the international schedule is crowded. Add to that domestic play with big clubs like Al-Ahly and Al-Ismaily, which must also participate in the African Champions League, and it is understandable why the Egyptians are exhausted when the World Cup comes around.

“For example, many of the Al-Ahly players have been going straight for three years,” Nazhar said.'

Good point.

Anyways, that's a discussion for another time. For now, we're ready for Egypt-Cameroon in the African final.

I can't wait! And I hope you can't either.

My prediction? Egypt in a close one, 2-1.

Have fun!!

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