Monday, February 11, 2008
So it's over, with the defending champions Egypt retaining their African title thanks to a 1-0 victory over Cameroon. That's their sixth African championship, more than anyone else.
One could say the howler by Cameroon captain Rigobert Song handed the title to the Egyptians. But that would be a bit unfair.
Even today, word comes from Cameroon that Song's teammates don't blame him for the loss.
Song, who was playing in his seventh Cup of Nations, lost possession to Mohamed Zidan on the edge of his area and allowed the Hamburg striker to set up Mohamed Aboutrika for an easy finish in the 77th minute on Sunday.
"We played a good game but we conceded a goal at a very bad time," said Song, who had been gunning for a third continental triumph after lifting the trophy in 2000 and 2002.
"Even if everybody has not been on top, all the players gave their best. I will continue with the national team. It is not because things did not go the right way that I am going to retire," the 31-year-old centre back added.
Right back Geremi, who with Song and Samuel Eto'o was playing in his third Nations Cup final, denied that age was a factor.
"We're disappointed but in football, when someone makes a mistake, you can't blame them because it happens," he said.
"It was special for me and Rigobert and Eto'o because it would have been our third Nations Cup and we're really disappointed. It's not a question of age, you are confusing age and experience," the 29-year-old added. "This is my fifth Nations Cup, I started young."
Let's be fair: Egypt was the better team, creating most of the scoring chances with their speed and mobility. Cameroon rarely troubled the Pharaohs.
Egypt was compact in midfield, tenacious in defense and quick on the counter. Cameroon tried but couldn't wedge through the defensive-minded Egyptians.
Even with that, the score was still 0-0 before the error by Song.
Why the Egyptian dominance in international play?
One factor could be the strength of their club football.
Only two players based abroad started Sunday's 1-0 win, with defender Wael Gomaa and captain Ahmed Hassan playing respectively at Al Siliya of Qatar and Belgian club Anderlecht.
Most of the others play together with five-time African champions Al Ahly, giving fluidity to the Pharaohs' play, while several are from Egyptian rivals Ismaili.
"The Egyptian clubs are often brilliant in the African Champions League," says Angel Marcos, who coached Ismaili for a spell during the 1990s.
The Argentine, now a consultant for French sports daily L'Equipe's Web site, added: "The clubs have very good structures, with a lot of effort being made in the academies. They have tactical courses, making the Egyptian clubs play like the South Americans and the Europeans. Undoubtedly, it is what gives the Pharaohs the edge over the other teams in Africa."
Egypt played a free-flowing passing game throughout the tournament, beating Cameroon 4-2 in their opening group game before thrashing hot favorites Ivory Coast 4-1 in the semi-finals.
On Sunday, they dominated most of the game but were kept out by Cameroon's impressive keeper Carlos Kameni until Mohamed Aboutrika pounced after Song's error.
It's obvious Egypt wanted to prove their 2006 victory on home soil was no fluke.
"We always respect our opponents but we are not afraid to play our game," striker Mohamed Fadl told reporters.
"The fact that everybody was only speaking about Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana (as tournament favorites) was a huge motivation for us. After all, we were still the defending champions and we eventually proved our point. We beat Cameroon twice and we knocked out Ivory Coast."
So what was the scene like in Egypt after the win?
Pure bedlam as hundreds of thousands of fans celebrated on the streets late into the evening.
According to the BBC, within seconds of the final whistle being blown, the Egyptian capital Cairo erupted into a cacophony of noise and a blur of light.
Tour boats on the Nile sounded their horns in time to the chants of crowds pouring across bridges spanning Africa's longest river.
Fireworks lit up Cairo's night sky as jubilant fans climbed atop buses and cars, dancing and beating drums.
"I feel very happy and I'm going to party all night to celebrate," 19-year-old Cairo resident Mohammed Saeed told the AP news agency, his face painted in the national colors of red, white and black.
In the football-loving nation of 80 million people, the celebrations are likely to continue for days to come.
Sounds like a great time!
Congratulations to Egypt, 2008 African Cup of Nations champions!!!