Saturday, 4 February 2017

Africa Cup of Nations 2017: Cameroon and Egypt Set For Final

The curtains for the 2017 Africa Nations Cup would be drawn in Gabon today with surprise finalist, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon squaring up against another team not given any chance by pundits when the competition began, the Pharaohs of Egypt. 

Because Nigeria’s Super Eagles are not involved in the competition, Nigerian fans initially were less perturbed about it but as the tempo increased, their interest was aroused mainly for the fact that the country’s opponents in the World Cup qualifiers, Algeria and Cameroon, were involved. 

By Patrick Omorodion
They heaved a sigh of relief when the Algerians, parading the most dreaded players in the competition failed to get out of the group stages, after drawing two matches and losing one.

Focus then shifted to Cameroon who equally didn’t have a very good start, winning one and drawing two matches. Theirs was however, better than the Algerians as they qualified for the quarter finals. As the Cameroonian team progressed in the competition, Nigerians started pondering if the Eagles could maintain leadership and pick the sole ticket of their 2018 World Cup qualifying group ahead of both Cameroon and Algeria.

After Cameroon dismissed Senegal in the quarter-finals and stopped Ghana in the semis, the frenzy increased with fears expressed by most people that the Lions were looking more impregnable and could be spoilers.

However, Eagles handler, Gernot Rohr, who is in Gabon not only to work as an analyst but also to spy on his team’s opponents, is not as agitated about the new form of Cameroon in the Nations Cup, assuring that the Eagles’ non appearance in Gabon would not take anything from them in the World Cup qualifiers.
Coming to today’s final, Rohr’s position may not be what some fans want. The Eagles manager believes that Cameroon play better attacking football and should win as against the Egyptians he described as being too defensive, which he said is not good for football. Rohr is talking technically. Egypt got to the final scoring four goals and conceding just one while Cameroon scored five and conceded two. He agreed that both sides play similar pattern but that the Cameroonians are more adventurous.

On the side of Cameroon, the young players who are making their debut at such a stage are looking to making history for themselves while helping their country record a fifth Nations Cup win after the 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2002 wins, the first three incidentally were against Nigeria.

Egypt too are seeking to increase their record to an 8th win, more than any country in the continent. And this will rub off on their legendary goalkeeper, Essam El Hadary, who has already made history, becoming the oldest player in Afcon history at 44 as well as in international competitions. At present he is tied at four Nations Cup win with his old team-mate, Ahmed Hassan and if the Pharaohs go on to lift the trophy at the expense of Cameroon today, he will become the player with the most wins at five.

This will be the driving force behind his remarkable performance so far, a performance that saw him stop the penalty that saw Egypt qualify ahead of hard fighting Burkina Faso after their semi final match had ended 1-1 after full and extra time. El Hadary, to me, is destined for this history considering the fact that he was a substitute coming into the Nations Cup. It was not too certain he would have had a chance to play in the team but as luck or ill-luck for his team-mate, Ahmed El-Shenawy who got injured after only 25 minutes in their first game against Mali which eventually ended 0-0, he was drafted into the squad.

From then on he never looked back as he employed his vast experience as a veteran of the Nations Cup to propel his country on till they landed in today’s final.

Coming back to the Nigerian fans, majority I spoke to about the final on who they think would carry the day, want Egypt to win. They opined that a win for Egypt would console them that at least the team that stopped the Eagles from going to Gabon actually won the Cup. They also believe that if the Eagles had qualified instead of Egypt, maybe they would have been in the final too and probably carry the day. This however, don’t always turn out so.

Their second reason for preferring Egypt to win is that a win for the Lions of Cameroon would boost their morale in the World Cup qualifiers when they face the Eagles in the double header in August. Again I don’t thing it works that way. Losing the Nations Cup could spur the Lions to ‘die’ in the World Cup qualifier as they wouldn’t want to lose out on both ends. Victory for them today could get into their heads, making them take the Eagles for granted in August. As a result they could get whipped by the Eagles who may want to make a statement that even though they were absent at the Nations Cup, they beat the African champions. No matter the calculation from both contestants today and even Nigerians, Africans and the world at large expect to see good soccer artistry from the Pharoahs and the Lions, at least to justify the increase in the number of slots for Africa in future World Cups as planned by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Africa Cup of Nations 2017: Cameroon and Egypt Set For Final
On a last note, I want to digress and talk about basketball. I want to appeal to those who are ‘fighting’ the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) to sheathe their swords and join the Tijjani Umar-led Board to take the game to unimaginable height. If the NBBF could achieve so much with little support from the sports ministry, with the new dawn of sponsorship expected, the achievement henceforth can be imagined.

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