Egypt started the defence of the title they won two years ago at home in some style by cruising to a comfortable 4-2 victory over four-time winners and favourites Cameroon in Kumasi.
The result has come as a surprise to many given Egypt’s lacklustre qualifying campaign where they have struggled to score goals, particularly away from home. The North African country is going through a transition period to bring in new talents and the absence of star man Mido due to injury had somewhat dampened Egyptian hopes of a successful defence of the title in unfamiliar West African climatic conditions.
The match was effectively over though in the first 45 minutes as the Indomitable Lions could not match the sharpness of their opponents. The Samuel Eto’o factor did not work either although the Barcelona sharpshooter scored Cameroon’s consolation goals.
It was Egypt’s Germany-based player Mohamed Zidan who put in a sterling performance. The Hamburg striker virtually single-handedly took the match out of Cameroon’s reach with two clinical fist-half goals. Zidan should have given the defending champions an early lead when he squandered an opportunity just two minutes into the start of the match after finding himself through but a moment of delay prevented him from scoring and a minute later Mohammed Shawky tested Cameroon keeper Idriss Kameni with a long-ranger. This might have been an early escape for the Cameroonians but the inevitable was about to happen as the Pharaohs showed the tempo and the intention to defend their hard-earned African Cup of Nations title.
The deadlock was broken in the 14th minute when Andre Bikey handled the ball in the box and the Gambian referee directed towards the spot. Hosni Abd Rabou scored from the resulting penalty in his second attempt after being asked to retake following hesitation in his first run-up. It was 2-0 three minutes later after Egypt hit their opponents in a deadly counter-attack that saw Mohamed Zidan receive the ball in his own half and after playing a wonderful one-two with Emad Motaeb slotted a low shot home past Kameni.
The Indomitable Lions did not know what had hit them and there was a sense of panic in the camp when coach Otto Pfister, desperate to change the course of the match, replaced Jean Makoun with Augustin Binya inside the first half but even then could not prevent Zidan and Egypt scoring the third goal. In first-half stoppage time the impressive Hamburg striker unleashed a powerful shot outside the box having expertly chested the ball down for his second goal of the night.
3-0 down and with a full half to be played, Cameroon went all out and it paid off when six minutes into the second half Geremi sent in a perfect left foot cross from the right side for Eto’o to head in from close range. The early goal gave the Lions some hope and now they showed great flair in their attacking display and should have further reduced the deficit when an Eto’o’s shot from the edge of the area went agonisingly close to the Egyptian goal.
But Cameroon’s momentum got reduced as Hassan Shehata’s men tried to slow down the proceedings by closing down their opponents’ surge upfront.
The Pharaohs then finished off the contest for good when nine minutes from time Abd Rabou scored his brace for the night with a stunning 25-yard strike after being allowed enough space by the Cameroonians to pull the trigger.
Samuel Eto’o did find a second goal for his side but that was too little too late when he scored his 13th African Cup of Nations goal from the spot kick to make it a hattrick of players getting two goals on the night after Egyptian Mahmoud Fathallah was adjudged to have committed the foul.