Libreville (AFP) – Traditional continental giants who had fallen on hard times, Egypt and Cameroon are looking to cap remarkable revivals when they meet in the Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday.
The first winners of the trophy 60 years ago, Egypt have been African champions a record seven times but were making their comeback in the competition here after missing the last three editions of the Cup of Nations amid political upheaval in the country.
Behind them Cameroon are, alongside Ghana, the next most successful side in the history of the tournament with four victories, the last in 2002.
While Egypt were seen as dark horses on their return to the Cup of Nations for the first time since their run of three straight triumphs in 2006, 2008 and 2010, Cameroon were dismissed as outsiders.
Apparently handicapped by the refusal of several leading players to accept call-ups from Belgian coach Hugo Broos, instead a team lacking in stars has eliminated hosts Gabon and fancied duo Senegal and Ghana to make it this far.
Sunday’s match at the 40,000-seat Stade de l’Amitie in Gabon’s capital Libreville kicks off at 1900 GMT and is preceded by the closing ceremony.
It will be the third meeting of the countries in the final — Egypt won on penalties in Cairo in 1986 and triumphed 1-0 in Accra in 2008.
That was Cameroon’s last final appearance, but while then they had the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Rigobert Song, their current team has no such big name stars.
“For these young players — 14 of the 23 are playing at their first Cup of Nations — it is possibly a unique opportunity in their careers to win the trophy,” Broos said.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, captain Benjamin Moukandjo added: “Of course when you get to this stage you want to win but I think looking at the run we have had we have already done well.”
Eto’o, the former Barcelona striker who is now 35 and playing in Turkey, was at the Stade de l’Amitie for the game to provide some star backing for his country.
“Wishing you a great final! Come on Cameroon!” he wrote on Twitter, while posing for a photo with the former France star Marcel Desailly.
– Cuper finally a winner? –
Egypt have been solid and unspectacular on their run to the final, the only goal they have conceded coming in the semi-final against Burkina Faso.
After drawing that match 1-1, they went through on penalties, 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam El Hadary saving two spot-kicks to take the Pharaohs through and keep alive his dream of winning the title for the fifth time in a remarkable career.
Like Broos with Cameroon, Hector Cuper has done a fine job in reviving the fortunes of the Egyptians, whose squad contains only four survivors from their 2010 triumph in El Hadary, Ahmed Fathy, Mohamed Abdel-Shafi and Hull City wing-back Ahmed Elmohamady.
“Egypt will not be very different to what we have seen so far, whether people like that or not, whether that means we will be attacking or not,” Cuper said on Saturday.
Cuper’s own career has featured numerous disappointments in finals, most notably in successive seasons in the UEFA Champions League with Valencia in 2000 and 2001.
However, he can take some comfort from Egypt’s own record in finals — they have won seven of eight in the Cup of Nations.
The injuries have been piling up for them, however, and strikers Ahmed Hassan and Marwan Mohsen are on the sidelines.
“We will wait until the last moment to see how the players are feeling. They are very tired, but a final is different to other games and there are a huge number of factors in play,” added Cuper.
One factor that could play into Cameroon’s hands is the crowd — the large number of Cameroonian expats in Gabon and the short distance from Cameroon to Libreville meant the majority of the crowd was expected to be behind them.
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