After 30 matches, the 2008 African Cup of Nations final is set, and two of Africa’s premier footballing powers will square off on Sunday for the title.
Hosts Ghana won’t be one of them, as their dream of lifting the cup in front of their home fans was dashed by Cameroon.
There will be a sense of familiarity to the final matchup, as the other participant, Egypt, is not only the defending champion, but the two finalists have met already in the competition, in their Group C opener, which went 4-2 in favor of the holders.
So, how did each team get their place in Sunday’s final?
Ghana 0-1 Cameroon
Just like one great moment can make you, one moment of absolute madness can potentially break you.
That was the case for Cameroon in their semifinal matchup against Ghana.
The hosts were missing three key players, as defender and captain John Mensah (suspension), midfielder Laryea Kingson, and striker Asamoah Gyan (both injured) were out for Thursday’s contest.
Even without those three, Ghana had plenty of chances to make the game theirs, but in a game of inches, things just didn’t go in their favor.
Just as in their 3-2 extra-time victory over Tunisia, when Stephane Mbia was the hero with two goals, the match-winner came from an unlikely source, with Samuel Eto’o provider and not scorer.
In the 71st minute, a long pass came into Joel Epalle (who provided the winning assist against Tunisia), who played it to substitute Alain Nkong.
Instead of trying to outrun the Ghana defender, Nkong played it back to Eto’o, who played him through with a great pass, and the Atlante midfielder produced a fine finish to beat Richard Kingson. His celebration afterwards, well, see for yourself.
From there, Ghana had a great chance at an equalizer, but Nigeria match winner Junior Agogo narrowly headed a free kick over the bar.
The most dramatic moment came in the waning moments, when Reading defender Andre Bikey experienced a moment of sheer insanity and pushed over a medical assistant who was trying to assist to teammate Rigobert Song. As a result, Bikey was shown the straight red, which will rule him out of the final.
Still, it won’t dampen the celebrations for now, as Cameroon made quite the fight back after going down in their tournament opener to earn a place in the final.
Ivory Coast 1-4 Egypt
So much for revenge, eh?
In a rematch of the 2006 African Cup of Nations final, Egypt steamrolled the Ivory Coast to earn the chance to retain their title.
It didn’t take very long for the champions to take the lead, and it came with a little help from the Ivorians.
An attempted headed clearance of a 12th minute corner came to defender Ahmed Fathi, whose shot from the edge of the box deflected off of an Ivorian player and past keeper Boubacar Barry.
Barry went off injured shortly before halftime, and was replaced by the inexperienced Stephan Loboue. Whether or not that handed Egypt the match is up for debate, but it certainly didn’t help the Ivory Coast’s cause.
Their luck didn’t improve in the second half, as the second goal came from another Ivorian assist, off of another corner.
The 62nd minute corner came in and was headed away by a man in orange, right to striker Amr Zaki, whose header went past the statue-like Loboue, who may have been distracted by the initial header by his own teammate.
That goal woke the Ivory Coast up, as moments later, they were back in it, albeit briefly. Lyon’s Abdulkader Keita made it happen all on his own, as he found space for a shot just outside the area, took advantage of it, and beat the diving Essam El-Hadary at the far post to make it 2-1.
But, Zaki restored Egypt’s two-goal advantage in the 67th minute when his low drive beat Loboue and went in off of the far post.
Two goals weren’t in the cards for the Ivory Coast, and unfortunately, the misery was heaped on before the final whistle, as Mohamed Aboutreika finished off the rout with an injury-time with a shot just right of the penalty spot that beat the helpless Loboue.
The complete capitulation (and lack of luck) by the Ivory Coast’s defense was a bit of a surprise, considering that they had given up only one goal in the first four matches. But, sometimes it’s just not your day, and that was the case for both the Ivory Coast and Ghana, who can’t mope too much, because they still have something to play for, as they’ll face off in the third-place match on Saturday.
But, they’ll be watching just like everyone else on Sunday, as Egypt looks to become the first side since Cameroon (2000, 2002) to repeat, and in doing so, win their sixth title. On the other side, Cameroon will be looking to win their fifth title and tie Egypt for the most in the competition’s history.
Ghana 0-1 Cameroon
Highlight reel: Missed opportunities, Nkong’s goal (and his celebration), and Bikey goes bananas
Ivory Coast 1-4 Egypt