Kings of the Nile and Beasts: Egypt vs Cameroon

26 Jan

Egypt's captain Ahmed Hassan celebrates with teammate Mahmoud Fathala after scoring his second goal (Source: Guardian - Photograph: Themba Hadebe/AP)

As the sun began to set on Benguela and a cool breeze swept the air, you had the feeling tonight was to be a special one. The second meeting of two heavy weights was about to bring Benguela to life in a tremulous clash that would spell revenge for the victors. The Pharaohs are missing June’s World Cup and, provided they win, will go on to face Algeria who defeated Cote D’Ivoire in a stunning performance last night. They’ll have to wait a few more days to exact revenge against  their most bitter rivals, but revel in the prospect of setting up the match. The Indomitable Lions revenge will be more direct. Tonight’s first match is a repeat of the final 2 years ago and the Cameroonians have the chance to set right their past wrongs. Both teams boast a wealth of experience and youth, the experience highlighted by the 11 players who started the 2008 final starting today; 6 from Egypt, 5 from Cameroon.

The Indomitable Lions roared out of the blocks and forward with a vice like grip around the Pharaoh’s neck. They chased every ball and bullied the Egyptians into their own half. Cameroon won a succession of corners early on and piled on the pressure from set pieces. Emana whipped powerful crosses in to the near post, but the Pharaoh defence dealt with the threat and cleared their lines. To my delight, the tackles flew in hard and fast, and the Lions began to press home their physical prowess. I’m sure anywhere else players would have found themselves booked early on and threading on thin ice for most of the game. But this is the Africa Cup of Nations and the ref let good old fashion tackles go, he had a sense of the occasion and didn’t let it get the better of him, this kept the game alive.

The Pharaohs took their knocks and played on. They were rattled but never lost their nerve. As always, the Egyptians put on a fantastic passing display and looked like, given the chance, they could unlock the Indomitable defence. Zidan was lively, getting a few shots off and winning free kicks in dangerous positions. On 28 minutes Egypt lined up to face another corner. Emana delivered another powerful, swinging cross to the near post. It was headed straight in!  He must have worked on that tactic since Thursday. To be honest, I was surprised he was still being allowed to take corners. I’m a great advocate for the  “you’ve got to clear the first man” rule and he simply wasn’t. Patience paid off and Pharaoh’s leader Hassan had the displeasure of marking his 170th cap by helping the ball into the back of the net. 0 – 1

The Indomitable Lions had drawn first blood and looked to add insult to injury, winning corner after corner. Egypt seemed to be fuelled by pure disgust at being found out at the back and Hassan selflessly drove his men forward with a true captain’s performance- he seemed to pop up everywhere, desperate to atone for his part in the goal. And atone he did. 10 minutes later he released a ferocious drive from a good 35 yards out. Speculative but in the end worth it. The ball bounced right in front of Kameni at full stretch. He saw it all the way and really should have dealt with it. Hassan’s emotional celebration told you who wanted it more. 1 – 1

The second half saw the Cameroonians maintaining possession and dominating in just about every area. But like the Angolans and Ivorians before them, you felt if they didn’t take a chance soon, they’d be next to start booking tickets back home. Egypt seemed to sense this too and showed why they came into the quarter finals as the only team with a 100% win record. Moteeb, Zidan and Gomma all stopped Cameroonian hearts on different occasions, but neither side could find the telling touch. The game petered out in the closing stages and extra time was ominous.

After the gruelling 90 minutes you already started thinking of the prospect of the first penalty shoot-out. The teams were sparring without padding, toe to toe and blow for… on the third minute Geremi made a pathetic attempt at a back pass. With very little power or conviction and with a grassy chasm between them, Geremi had left Kameni stranded on his goal line. The dreaded hospital pass. Gedo nipped in and tucked the ball easily passed Kameni. The Lions had it all to do. 2 – 1

Cameroon attacked liked crazed beasts, desperate for the equalizer. The adrenaline was coursing and they conceded a free kick just outside their penalty area. Gedo blasted a shot goalward. Kameni punched. The ball hit the frame and landed just on the safe side of the line. The defence cleared. Gedo ran  to his team mates to celebrate. The linesman had signalled to give the goal and the ref obliged. You didn’t need to see the replay to know that didn’t go in. 3 – 1

The Indomitable Lions threw the kitchen sink at the Egyptians, who stood regal to the end, protecting their lead. Cameroon’s plight was dealt a heavy blow, when Chedjou was sent off and from then on it was plain sailing for the Pharaohs.

The Egyptians will never say die in this tournament. With every performance their triumph looks evermore imminent. They are livid at their failure to qualify for the World Cup and are showing us what will be missing. The rest of Africa is bearing the brunt as the Pharaohs continue to dole out punishment to all comers. Cameroon made a go of it, but came out second best in a contest where fortune favoured the brave. They can now lick their wounds and look forward to the summer.

Final Score: Egypt 3 – 1 Cameroon

Goal of the Match: its got to be the opener I’m afraid. I’m convinced Emana was told to treat corners like free kicks and shoot, hope for a rebound to fall to an attacker. It paid off in the end. I hope the dubious goal’s committee doesn’t rule that an own goal, I’m pretty sure it was on target.

Man of the Match: Hassan. A true leader. He was Egypt’s talisman and rallied the team round him, played out of his skin and scored a beauty.

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2 Responses to “Kings of the Nile and Beasts: Egypt vs Cameroon”

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  1. Kings of the Nile and Beasts: Egypt vs Cameroon « Out of Africa | Egypt today - January 26, 2010

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