The final round of the group games saw several well fancied sides struggling for form and in danger of going out, but Group B’s final game saw Ghana edge it 1-0 to progress with Ivory Coast in to the quarter finals. It had certainly been a weird group with Mali pulling out but eventually, the two major sides got through, though Burkina Faso can be proud at their efforts.
They made themselves hard to beat and in knock out football, that can be all you need, as Greece proved in the 2004 European Championships. Ghana struggled, huffed and generally puffed throughout the group but just about got over the line. Group C saw Nigeria roll back the years to trounce Mozambique 3-0 but they made hard work of it through out the first half.
2 goals either side of half time from Osaze Odemwingie put daylight between Nigeria and their opponents and a late goal from Obamfemi Martins wrapped up all 3 points. Nigeria were ominously beginning to shake off the lethargy that had afflicted them in the first two games and began to play as the team of old. It would be something unfair to dismiss Mozambique’s challenge as they did start the game brighter, but Nigeria have been there and done that. Experience counts for a lot in a major tournament.
Egypt also continued their fine form with a 2-0 win over Benin. Even resting key players couldn’t derail the Pharaohs great from so far in Angola, they’ve probably impressed me the most of all the notable sides. They kept the ball so well in this game, that despite everything being on the line for the Squirrels, they simply didn’t get enough possession. El Mohamedy scored a peach of a goal and when Moteab made it 2-0 after just 23 minutes, they game was effectively over.
The final group games saw so much to play for but ultimately someone had to go out. Gabon went into the game against Zambia knowing they simply needed a draw, but they seemed to freeze when their big moment arrived. Zambia however played with an abandon of a side with nothing to lose. They weren’t expected to qualify but they brushed Gabon aside to win 2-1 thanks to goals by Kalada and Chamanga. Gabon simply couldn’t get their game working and even after a late goal couldn’t do enough.
Cameroon also knew that they needed to avoid defeat against Tunisia to progress, but once again struggled to produce anything of real quality, especially after going 1-0 down in the opening minute. For half an hour they failed to create anything of note, but once again it was the talismanic striker, Samuel Eto’o who came to the rescue. He equalised at the beginning of the second half but Cameroon shot themselves in the foot and went behind again to an own goal. Staring elimination in the face they rallied and got a second equaliser through N’Guemo. The Indomitable Lions held on, but only just to progress.
So the Quarter Finals were upon us with four interesting games, the host nation Angola entertained Ghana but the fairytale came to an abrupt halt. Despite a feverish support, Angola couldn’t take their chances and recover the initiative after Gyan had given the Black Stars the lead after sixteen minutes. They wasted some great chances and thanks to some great goalkeeping by Ghanaian keeper Kingson, the host nation exited the competition.
Sundays other game saw a heavyweight clash between two World Cup qualifiers, Ivory Coast and Algeria. Both teams had started the tournament slowly but this game was anything but a slow clash. Chelsea’s Kalou got the Ivory Coast off to the best start with a 4th minute opener when he was left free in the box but Algeria would not be bowed and responded after 30 minutes through Matmour with a lovely right foot strike from the edge of the box. The second half was a tense affair but it exploded spectacularly in the final minutes.
With one minute of the match remaining, Kadou Keita hit a thunderbolt from outside the box that flew in to the top left hand corner to put the Ivory Coast on the threshold of the semi-finals but Algeria had other ideas. Unbelievably left unmarked in the box, Rangers centre half, Madjid Bougherra steered a header past the despairing dive of the goalkeeper in the 92nd minute to take the game to extra time.
Amazingly, 3 minutes in to extra time, it was another British based player, Hamed Bouazza, who was left unattended in the box to head Algeria in front for the first time in the match. Of course, we hadn’t had a major incident in either of Sundays games but that all changed in the final minute. The Ivory Coast poured forward and Kolo Toure struck a sweet shot to equalise but it was amazingly ruled out for offside. He was clearly onside and the replays showed as much, but the decision stood and the tournament favourites crashed out in controversial style.
Yesterday saw the remaining quarter finals and Cameroon’s luck finally ran out, though the day seemed to by destined as theirs. An early goal against the impressive Egyptians from a corner by Emana seemed to settle the Cameroonians down. No-one touched the ball apart from Egypt’s captain Ahmed Hassan as it whistled in to the net to start the goal scoring in bizarre circumstances.
Hassan, however, would drag his team back in to the game with a long range shot that went in from well outside the box ten minutes before half time to make it 1-1. Egypt seemed revitalised by this goal and took the game to Cameroon, who had Kameni to thank for keeping them in game but Cameroon continued to struggle but they hung on for extra time. The game turned almost as quickly as the extra period began, when Geremi under hit a back pass and Gado pounced to make it 2-1 but once again controversy reared its ugly head.
Just 3 minutes after going 2-1 down, Ahmed Hassan hit a free kick, Kameni saved it on to the bar and bounced away yet amazingly the linesman gave it and the goal stood. It wasn’t even close to being a goal but to be fair, Egypt had been the better side throughout the game and deserved the victory, but once again, the quality of the officiating dominated the post match discussions.
Finally, Zambia and Nigeria tried their best to send everyone to sleep in a dour 120 minutes but some people managed to make it to the penalty shoot out. Thankfully this gave us a notable incident, with both goalkeepers scoring, and Nigeria’s Vincent Eneyema not only saved a spot kick, he scored the winner to send Nigeria through to the semi-finals.
Sadly, the two shocking decisions soured some great football and it’s hard to think of two worse decisions at international level in this day and age, but hopefully neither set of officials will be here for the rest of the tournament. Thursday will see both games taking place, with the sumptuous West African derby between Nigeria and Ghana acting as a starter to a real grudge match, Algeria v Egypt. Hopefully all the battling will stay on the pitch this time. Roll on Thursday!!!