Indomitable Lions, Pharaohs Battle for African Title

0

Demola Ojo
Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions and the Pharaohs of Egypt will battle for the right to be crowned AFCON 2017 champions when they meet in the final this night in Libreville, Gabon. Both teams are aiming to cap remarkable revivals by winning the Africa Cup of Nations when they meet in a final that few thought possible at the beginning of the 16-nation competition.

At the outset of the tournament, it was the likes of Algeria, Senegal and defending champions Ivory Coast who were considered the favourites, with Egypt no more than dark horses in their first appearance since 2010.

However, a blockbuster match between the most successful countries in the 60-year history of the competition is a fitting finale; Egypt are seven time African champions while Cameroon are four-time winners, tied with Ghana.

Egypt have now re-established themselves as a giant of African football in their path to the final, topping their group ahead of Ghana, beating North African rivals Morocco for the first time in over three decades in the quarterfinal, and then overcoming a powerful Burkina Faso on penalties in the semi.

The Pharaohs haven’t necessarily dominated their matches, but a resilient defence (just one goal conceded in Gabon), breathtaking pace on the counter attack and know-how at set pieces have helped carve a path to the final.

Cameroon, meanwhile, have been one of the surprise packages, shrugging off the absence of several major stars to power past some of the tournament’s strongest teams in their path to the final.

The Indomitable Lions qualified from their group at the expense of the hosts and have knocked out both Senegal and Ghana to make their first final since 2008. Then, with a side containing the likes of Rigobert Song and Samuel Eto’o, they lost 1-0 to the Egyptians in Ghana’s capital Accra. Today’s match is a chance for revenge.

The Egyptians had won three consecutive Cups of Nations between 2006 and 2010 but missed the last three tournaments amid political upheaval in the country before Argentine Hector Cuper led them back onto the scene here.

The Pharaohs have not exactly been a joy to watch – they have built their success around a rock-solid defence and have relied heavily on the star quality of Mohamed Salah at the other end. Having scored the winning goal against Ghana in the group stage and again in the semifinal against Burkina Faso, Salah has been an influential figure in attack despite not showing his best form.

Egypt have a great record in finals – just one defeat in eight Cup of Nations finals and two wins out of two on such occasions against Cameroon, with the first coming on penalties in Cairo in 1986.

In head-to-head stats, Egypt and Cameroon have clashed in 24 official matches. The North Africans have claimed 12 wins compared to five for their opponents, while seven matches have been drawn. The teams’ most recent meeting took place in Omdurman, Sudan, in May 2012. The Pharaohs claimed a 2-1 victory over the Indomitable Lions.