There will be a familiar feel about Sunday’s African Nations Cup final as Cameroon and record winners Egypt do battle for the continental crown for the third time since 1986.
The two countries have won just over a third of all past Nations Cup tournaments between them, with Egypt looking to triumph for the eighth time and Cameroon searching for a fifth success.
Yet despite both having distinguished past records neither was expected to come this far in Gabon and both were emerging from slumps in form when the tournament kicked off in Libreville three weeks ago.
Cameroon had undergone a major overhaul of their team under coach Hugo Broos and then saw several players put club before country and pull out before the start of the tournament.
Their side was mocked as a “B-team” and looked on the verge of suffering one of the tournament’s greatest upsets as they trailed Guinea Bissau at halftime in their second group game.
Two second-half goals saw them win the match and go on to advance from their group.
“Our ambition was to get to the last eight and from there everything was possible,” said Broos.
Cameroon needed penalties to get the better of fancied Senegal in the quarters but were the better side when they faced Ghana in the semis, winning 2-0 to book their place in the final.
Egypt’s route to Sunday’s showpiece was almost a carbon copy.
They looked nervy as they drew with Mali in their opening Group D game and then scored a late winner against Uganda.
Since then they have beaten Ghana in their final group game and Morocco in the quarters, before conceding for the first time in their semi-final against Burkina Faso, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
The heroics of Egypt’s 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam El Hadary helped them edge through to the final on penalties.
“My players were tired and Burkina were better than us and so then you play to get to penalties and see what happens,” said Egypt coach Hector Cuper.
Egypt still have injury concerns over Mohamed Elneny in midfield and must find a solution upfront with Marwan Mohsen injured and Mahmoud Kahraba suspended. Cameroon reported a clean bill of health after their semi-final.
Cameroon and Egypt played each other in the 1986 final in Cairo, with Egypt winning on penalties after a goalless draw, and in 2008 in Accra when Mohamed Aboutrika scored 13 minutes from fulltime to earn the Egyptians a narrow 1-0 victory.
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