Ask thousands of football enthusiasts, or perhaps as many as you can whether they had imagined if this current Cameroon squad will win the Afcon trophy, the answer will be ‘NO’. If anyone had thought that Cameroon was going to win the African Cup of Nations, it will definitely not be this current squad. They failed to qualify in 2012 and 2013, and was eliminated in the group stage in 2015.
They were not among the favourites going into this year’s edition, some considered them as the worst Cameroon team in living memory – at least three weeks ago. But credit has to be given to the coach, Hugo Broos, for imposing discipline which even led to key players being dropped. Along the line, eight players had also withdrawn from the squad leaving the coach with a very difficult task to put together at least an average squad.
But his average squad showed purpose and were hungry for success, and it was evident throughout their campaign. They maintained their remarkable tenacity to recover from a goal down to beat the Pharaohs of Egypt 2-1 to win their fifth Afcon title after 15 years of trophy drought.
Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny broke the deadlock to give Egypt the lead when the game was 22 minutes old. He received a through pass from Mohamed Salah and looked as if he was going to cutback, instead fired his shot to beat Ondoa at the near post. Elneny missed both the quarter-final and semi-final with a calf injury but passed a late fitness test and returned to Egypt’s starting line-up.
The goal was a wake up call for Cameroon, who trailing one goal down lifted the pace of their game, operating more on the flanks and enjoying more possession of the ball. They fought very hard for the equaliser and dominated the game with Egypt only waited to catch them on counter-attack.
Cameroon maintained the same rhythm in the second half, and posed even more threats to Egypt who only sat back and invited the Indomitable Lions to come at them and they paid a heavy price.
Substitute Nikolas N’Koulou equalised in the 59th minute to put Cameroon back in the game. Benjamin Moukandjo whipped in an excellent, menacing cross and defender Nkoulou barged his way through a crowd of players to get his head on the ball and buried it past 44-year-old Essam El Hadary in the Egyptian goal.
After the leveller, the Indomitable Lions became even more dangerous and caused Egypt problems, with Christian Bassogog and Jacques Zoua proving to be the most dangerous players with their pace and technique.
Egypt sat deep and fatigue soon set in and Cameroon got their reward for increasing the pressure on the experienced Egyptian defence. Vincent Aboubakar in the 89th minute scored the winning goal for Cameroon. The Besiktas striker controlled Sebastien Siani’s long pass with his chest at the edge of the box, flicked the ball over Egypt defender Aly Gabr’s head, and then volleyed his finish to beat Egypt’s 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam el-Hadary for a fitting winner.
The goal denied Egypt an eighth Afcon title and delivered Cameroon’s first title since 2002.
By Prince Dulzy
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