Cameroon wins 5th AFCON title

Players and officials of the Indomitable Lions celebrate the AFCON feat

Players and officials of the Indomitable Lions celebrate the AFCON feat

It was a goal that deserved to win any game, any tournament, anywhere in the world, at any time.

Vincent Aboubakar’s strike was a goal worthy of any great Cameroonian striker, as Samuel Eto’o and Roger Milla, who celebrated wildly in the stands, would surely attest. That it came in the closing seconds of an Africa Cup of Nations final only made it more special.

There were shades of Paul Gascoigne at Wembley as the Besiktas striker controlled a long ball, flicked it with his heel over Ali Gabr, and thumped a volley into the corner of the net, ending Egypt’s dreams of an eighth Cup of Nations.

Had there been a roof on this stadium, the response to the goal would have lifted it off. All but a couple of thousand of the 40,000 fans in the Stade de l’Amitie were supporting the underdogs, in part because of the ease of travel from the neighbouring country, and also because so many of Gabon’s 500,000 immigrants are from Cameroon.

They greeted a first title since 2002 with a cacophony of noice, and celebrations that will last long into the night in Libreville.

It had all looked so different when Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny put the Pharaoh’s ahead midway through the first half.

Elneny has been under pressure from the Egyptian press, after a slow start to the tournament followed by an injury-enforced absence.

But the goal he scored was quite brilliant, both individually and from Egypt as a team.

The Arsenal man collected the ball inside his own half in the 22nd minute and urged his team-mates forward, frustrated by the lack of movement in front of him.

He surged into Cameroon’s territory before playing the ball to Mohamed Salah. Salah, Elneny and Amr Warda exchanged passes down the left before the former Chelsea winger fed a perfect pass in to Elneny who had continued into the box.

Fabrice Ondoa should not have been beaten at his near post, but he, like everyone else, expected a cross – instead Elneny slammed the ball high into the net, a superb finish to round off a magnificently worked goal.

At that point the lead was well-deserved, with Egypt happy to give up the majority of possession, but far more dangerous when they did have the ball.

Abdallah Said had already forced Ondoa into a good save in just the second minute, and Salah was a constant threat down the right, as the Pharaohs looked to use the Roma man’s pace on the break.

They may also have been aided by an injury to Adolphe Teikeu, who needed to be replaced at centre-half, and may well have been struggling in the build-up to the goal. Certainly he had been slow to get to Elneny inside the box, and was taken off nine minutes later.

It wasn’t all bad news for the Indomitable Lions though, because it was Teikeu’s replacement, Nicolas N’Koulou, who equalized just before the hour mark, rising to meet Benjamin Moukandjo’s perfect cross and thump a header into the corner.

N’Koulou remains a hugely popular player with those fans, despite the surprising decision taken by Hugo Broos to leave him out of the starting XI for much of this tournament, and his goal brought the game to life.

It was just the spark Cameroon needed. Up to that point the men in green, so exciting in their attacking play in the semi-final, had not been able to repeat the trick. They tried, with Christian Bassogog and Moukandjo drifting inside to try and involve themselves, but Egypt’s solid defence, the best in the tournament by a distance, looked unbreachable.

Protected by Elneny and Tarek Hamed, the centre-back pairing of Ahmed Hegazy and Ali Gabr were once again excellent in the first half, limiting Cameroon to long shots that never troubled Essam El-Hadary.

Indeed, the best chances Cameroon had before they equalized were of El-Hadary’s own making, the 44-year-old twice flapping haplessly at crosses, and lucky to get away with it.

For a game billed by some as a battle of the goalkeepers – El-Hadary, the elder statesman, going for a record fifth title against young and brilliantly talented Ondoa, born three months before his opposite number made his international debut – neither lived up to their reputation.

The introduction of Aboubakar – another big name benched by Broos in this tournament – at half time was influential, as Egypt dropped deeper and deeper to defend what they had, using Salah on the break as their only weapon.

He almost conjured a piece of magic with a deft backheel, but a lack of support proved a hindrance, even for the supremely talented forward.

Cameroon always looked the more likely to score, Jacques Zoua wasting a lightening-fast break by taking a lazy shot, and Moukandjo firing over after being found brilliantly by Bassogog.

And in the end, it was Aboubakar who produced the decisive moment. As the final whistle went, the party in Libreville was only just beginning.

Egypt: El-Hadary; Elmohamady, Gabr, Hegazy, Fathi; Elneny, Hamed; Salah, Said, Hassan (Sobhi 66); Warda.

Cameroon: Ondoa; Fai, Teikeu (N’Koulou 31), Ngadeu-Ngadjui, Oyongo; Siani, Djoum; Bassogog, Zoua (Mandjeck 93), Moukandjo; Ndip Tambe (Aboubakar 46)-Mailonline

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