With the Africa Cup of Nations drawing to a close, the two most successful sides in the history of the tournament go head to head for a place in the final when host nation Cameroon take on Egypt at the Paul Biya Stadium today at 7.pm.
Both sides last met in the final back in 2017, when the Indomitable Lions secured a 2-1 victory, and with 12 titles between them, this game has all the makings of an exciting and nerve-racking contest.
With the home crowd cheering them on, Cameroon have enjoyed a sensational Africa Cup of Nations campaign and will feel confident in their chances of reaching a second final in five years.
The Indomitable Lions got the ball rolling on January 9, when they came from behind to see off Burkina Faso in the tournament’s curtain-raiser before cruising to a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Ethiopia four days later.
Having already booked their place in the knockout stages, Cameroon were denied a 100 per cent record in the group stages as they were held to a 1-1 draw by a resilient Cape Verde side in their final group encounter on January 17.
With seven points from three games, the Central Africans secured smooth passage into the round of 16, where they were drawn against newcomers Comoros, after finishing top of Group A with a three-point cushion over Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, who finished level on four points
Despite the valiant display of the Coelacanths at the Paul Biya Stadium on January 24, Toni Conceicao’s side returned to winning ways as they secured a 2-1 victory, courtesy of goals in either half from Karl Toko Ekambi and Vincent Aboubakar.
Cameroon maintained their impressive string of results last time out when they made light work of fellow debutants Gambia, claiming a 2-0 victory, thanks to a second-half brace from Ekambi.
The Indomitable Lions, who are seeking to conquer the continent for a sixth time, are now unbeaten in each of their last nine outings across all competitions — picking up eight wins and one draw — stretching back to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Cote d’Ivoire in the World Cup qualifiers last September.
This fine run has been in no small part owing to their impressive display at the attacking end of the pitch, where they have scored 20 goals since that loss, while managing four clean sheets at the opposite end of the pitch.
While Cameroon will look to continue their charge for the continental crown, next up is an opposing side who they have claimed just one win against in the last eight meetings between the sides, losing five and picking up two draws in that time.
However, that one victory came in the 2017 AFCON final held in Gabon, when Nicolas N’Koulou and Aboubakar scored second-half goals to cancel out Mohamed Elneny’s 22nd-minute opener and turn the game on its head.
On the other hand, while this might not be Egypt’s best performance in the history of the tournament, they will be delighted to have made it this far all the same after several unconvincing performances.
Having enjoyed an unbeaten qualifying journey where they picked up 12 points from six games to secure top spot in Group G, the Pharaohs failed to carry on that form to the tournament proper as they fell to a 1-0 defeat against Nigeria in their group opener on January 11.
Like all good sides do, Egypt bounced back to winning ways immediately as they dug deep to secure a 1-0 victory over Guinea-Bissau four days later before beating Sudan by the same scoreline in their final group outing.
With six points from three games, Carlos Queiroz’s men secured safe passage to the knockout stages, where they faced the daunting task of taking on a rampant Ivory Coast side in the last 16, after finishing runners-up in Group D, three points adrift of group winners Nigeria.
In a cagey affair at the Douala Stadium, nothing could separate the sides after 120 minutes, forcing the game to penalties, where Eric Bailly missed his spot kick before Mohamed Salah calmly converted the all-important strike to condemn the Elephants to a 5-4 defeat.
Going up against title favourites Morocco in the quarter-finals, the Pharaohs picked up their biggest result at the tournament as they turned in a performance of the highest quality to come from behind and claim a 2-1 victory in extra time.
After falling behind in the opening seven minutes through Sofiane Boufal’s penalty, Egypt rallied in the second half as Salah put on a show, scoring the equaliser eight minutes after half time to take the game to extra time before setting up Trezeguet’s 100th-minute winner.
The North Africans have scored just four goals in the tournament, but their defensive show of class has played a huge role in their journey so far as they have kept three clean sheets and conceded just two in five games.
They head into today’s game as the most decorated side on the continent with a record seven Africa Cup of Nations triumphs and they will look to repeat their 2010 run, when they went all the way before defeating Ghana 1-0 in the final.
The duo of Aboubakar and Ekambi, who have scored or assisted all of Cameroon’s 12 goals at the tournament, have been pivotal in their journey so far and will certainly play another big role today.
Aboubakar, who is currently the competition’s highest goalscorer with six goals, also has one assist to his name, while the Olympique Lyon forward is one goal shy having netted five so far.
While the duo have caught the eye in attack, Collins Fai, Jean-Charles Castelletto, Michael Ngadeu and Seattle Sounders man Nouhou Tolo have been solid at the defensive end of the pitch and we expect them to start for the third game running.
At the centre of the park, Nicolas Moumie Ngamaleu and Napoli’s Andre Zambo Anguissa have been ever-present for Cameroon, featuring in all five games at the tournament, and we expect them to be tasked with winning the midfield battle once again.
On the other hand, Egypt remain without Hamdi Fathi after the Al Ahly midfielder picked up an injury in last Wednesday’s game against Cote d’Ivoire, meaning Ayman Ashraf will push for a second consecutive start.
Fellow Al Ahly teammate Akram Tawfik is also out of contention for the Pharaohs after the 24-year-old sustained a severe injury in the opening game against Nigeria which saw him come off inside the opening 11 minutes.
They will also have to make do with the absence of former West Bromwich Albion man Ahmed Hegazy, who was hooked off at half time against Morocco through injury with goalscorer Trezeguet taking his place.
Having seen the goalkeeping duo of Mohamed El-Shenawy and Gabaski come off injured in their last two games, Egypt are left with third-choice Mohamed Sobhy, who made his national team debut in the aforementioned game.
With his goal and assist against the Atlas Lions, Salah has now scored or assisted three of the North Africans’ four goals so far and the Liverpool man’s presence will definitely give the Cameroon defenders some thinking to do. – Sports Mole