Despite having been crowned champions at the last two African Nations Cups, Egypt’s impressive campaign hitherto has somewhat surprised many. They came into the tournament without possibly their most influential player, in Mohamed Aboutrika, and not too many players of which the side consists are particularly well known. That is because the majority of the ‘Pharaohs’ play their football in Egypt, but that also means they have been playing together for some time and have formed quite a bond.
Egypt now face Cameroon in the quarter-finals, who are now under more pressure than ever to deliver, after recent failures of a seemingly very strong squad. In qualifying, they looked a shadow of the side that won the competition in 2000, and then again in 2002. But as soon as Paul Le Guen took charge, a run of irresistible form saw them sit among the favourites to go all the way in Angola.
Le Guen must take the credit for qualification turn-around
However, the Indomitable Lions only just scraped through their group which, compared to Egypt, who were the only team to gain nine points from three games, leaves a lot to be desired. And the bookmakers clearly believe Cameroon will have to improve vastly if they are to reach the semi-finals, making Egypt 6/5 favourites, and Cameroon 2/1 for the win.
Looking in from the outside, the Cameroon squad appears to have the quality to beat anybody on the continent. Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o is one of the very best in world football, but for too long have they relied on the powerful attacker to be their sole source of goals. However, now the English based pair of Geremi and Alex Song have added both steel and good service to the team. Cameroon appear to be developing a very good passing side, but inconsistency may be their downfall.
Eto’o will once again lead the Cameroon line
For Egypt, qualifying after two games allowed Hassan Shehata to rest a few key players, such as Mohamed Zidan. And so the Pharaohs should have the advantage in the fact that their legs will be relatively fresh. Captain Ahmed Hassan will once again lead by example, with his range of passing the key to unlocking the Cameroon defence. One player that has possibly been overlooked, though, is Mohamed Nagy. The striker scored in his sides opening two group games, coming on in the second half of both, and could well have an important role to play as an impact substitute.
Road to the Quarter-Finals
Nigeria – 3-1 win
Mozambique – 2-0 win
Benin – 2-0 win
Gabon – 0-1 loss
Zambia – 3-2 win
Tunisia – 2-2 draw
Prediction: On paper it should be an extremely tight game, but I feel the way Egypt play as a team with a great understanding will see them overcome Cameroon 3-1. The last time these two teams met was in the 2008 final, when the Indomitable Lions were defeated 1-0, and I expect the game to follow a similar course.
Highlights of the African Nations Cup final, Ghana 2008