Unfancied Cameroon look to hold off Egyptian force
As the end of what has been an African Cup of Nations tournament laden with surprises nears, the odds look stacked in favour of Egypt to extend their own record as the most successful Nations Cup side with an eighth title.
The Egyptians, having knocked out Burkina Faso 4-3 on post-match penalties in the semis, reached a record-equaling ninth Africa Cup of Nations final with veteran goalkeeper Essam El Hadary the hero.
The 44-year-old goalkeeper, also the tournament’s oldest player ever, saved Bertrand Traore’s spot-kick to secure the victory. They will now face Cameroon in Sunday’s final.
The Indomitable Lions stunned Ghana 2-0 in Thursday’s semis to reach their first Cup of Nations final since losing 1-0 to the Egyptians in 2008. Then they also beat Ghana in the semi-finals.
Here is a look at some interesting facts:
-The AFCON 2017 surprises-
.For the first time the South Africa and Nigeria, the 2013 champions, are both watching the Cup of Nations from home. These are the continent’s richest countries in terms of GDP and combined population of 250m football fans should have made them among the favourites at this year’s tournament.
. Having been named the best national in Africa in the Caf awards for qualifying for the nation’s cup for the first time in 39 years .Uganda hit man Farouk Miya scored their first goal and the team’s only goal at an African Nations Cup as they bowed out of the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Mali.
.Ivory Coast, the defending champions of the African Cup of Nations, failed to win a single game and to make it out of the group stages. Their title defense ended with a one nil loss in their last group C fixture with Morocco who were being coached by their former manager Herve Renard. The Ivoirians’ exited the tournament with two points and two goals.
. Another tournament favorites Algeria crashed out at the group stage. Bloastering of one of the most feared attacks comprising of the best player in Africa Riyad Mahrez, striker Islam Slimani of Leicester and Yasine Brahimi they failed to win a single game in the group stage.
.They biggest surprise of the competition had to be Cameroon knocking the favourites Senegal out of the championship with a penalty shootout victory to book their place in the semi-finals. After a goalless 120 minutes Sadio Mané proved the fall guy and the Cameroon goalkeeper Joseph Ondoa the hero as he saved the Liverpool winger’s spot-kick.
Senegal made the running from the outset but exited with nothing to show, while the four-times champions Cameroon go on to face Ghana next in the semi finals.
-Gabon exit and low attendance-
Gabon became only the fourth hosts to exit the Africa Cup of Nations at the group stage after a 0-0 draw with Cameroon in their last match of the group stage. The continental show down enters the semi final stage as four teams of the 16 football teams compete for a place in the finals many seats in the stadiums remain empty after the political opposition called on its supporters to boycott the event.
Despite the distribution of free tickets around the capital, the stands were not full for many of the matches. It’s a stark contrast to the packed stadiums back in 2012 when Gabon co-hosted AFCON with Equatorial Guinea.
-Stars of the AFCON 2017-
1. Fabrice Ondoa- Sevilla B
Cameroon’s presence in the last four of the Africa Cup of Nations against all the odds owes much to the exceptional performances of their 21-year-old goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa.
Following snubs from several experienced players, the Indomitable Lions travelled to Gabon with what looked like their weakest ever squad at the competition.
And yet Ondoa has helped them progress at the expense of the hosts and much-fancied Senegal and on to a semi-final against Ghana on Thursday
2. Denis Bouanga – Gabon
French Ligue 2 side, Tours
He outshined his captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Dennis is sharp, has an eye for goal, his movement is intelligent.
3. Junior Kabananga – DR Congo
Astana FC, Kazakhstan.
Currently leading the tournament’s scoring charts with three goals. He helped DR Congo not to feel the absence of Yannick Bolasie. He has a powerful physique, good in the air and a constant threat in front of goal.
4. Ahmed Hegazy – Egypt
He is one of six members of the Egyptian squad playing their club football for domestic Al Ahly.
.Ahmed is calm central defender who is good in the air with excellent reading of the game.
-Flops of the AFCON 2017-
The reigning champions were another big-name group-stage victim. The Elephants came looking to defend the title they won in 2015 but this was a much-changed side. With a new coach in Michel Dussuyer and with a new generation of players replacing the likes of the Toure brothers and Gervinho, they could not win a game. A young side could only draw with Togo and DR Congo before a 1-0 defeat to a Morocco coached by their old boss Herve Renard sent them packing. For the fourth successive Cup of Nations, the holders are out before the knockout phase.
Gabon bowed out without losing a game but did little to win over a population lacking enthusiasm in the Cup of Nations at a time when the country is battling with a social and political crisis. Their inability to win a game — they drew all three matches — meant the late decision to sack coach Jorge Costa and replace him with non-French speaker Jose Antonio Camacho backfired. Aubameyang also blamed poor preparation, saying: “We were supposed to start on January 3, but we started a little bit late. We didn’t really have the time to prepare.” For only the fourth time, and the first since Tunisia in 1994, the hosts failed to make it past the first round.
Togo coach Claude Le Roy spoke for all his counterparts when he described the playing surface in Port-Gentil as “unworthy of hosting top-level football.” The shocking pitch in the port city was by far the worst of a bad bunch and was directly responsible for several injuries, including the knee injury suffered by Ghana’s Abdul Rahman Baba that ended his tournament in the first game. The Confederation of African Football were aware of the concerns but seemingly not enough to move the quarter-final due to be played there on Sunday. “This is the Cup of Nations, we need to try to improve things” said Togo skipper Emmanuel Adebayor.
Algeria were seen as one of the pre-tournament favourites. They had the newly-crowned African Footballer of the Year, Riyad Mahrez, in their ranks and a talented supporting cast around the Leicester City wizard. But Georges Leekens’ side went home without winning a game. A Mahrez brace only earned them a 2-2 draw with Zimbabwe in their opening match and a defeat to north African rivals Tunisia effectively ended their hopes before a 2-2 draw with Senegal ended their campaign. Algeria’s wait for a first Cup of Nations crown since 1990 goes on, and coach Leekens quit after their exit.
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