This Sunday is the final of the Africa Cup of Nations. This year’s exciting, but under-watched tournament comes to its conclusion when the competition’s two most successful sides meet in Gabon. Egypt, with seven championships, will go for eight against Cameroon who has lifted this trophy four times before. It will be a rematch of the 2008 and 1986 final, in which Egypt was victorious on both occasions
Too often, the Africa Cup of Nations is seen more as an annoyance to many of Europe’s top club teams and fans. The competition routinely takes its fair share of big names away from teams around Europe, leading many to unfairly criticize the tournament. For those who watch, however, it can often be a thrilling event, one of the games hidden treasures. In 2015, the Ivory Coast defeated Ghana in a remarkable penalty shootout that even saw the keepers get a turn.
On Sunday, two of the tournament’s historic giants will go head to head. Egypt has been in this position before. They were the inaugural winners back in 1957, and have been to the final eight times, winning seven. The Pharaohs have been in a bit of a dry spell, however. They’ve struggled over the past three tournaments. Their last appearance in the final was in 2010 when they completed their hat trick, winning their third consecutive Africa Cup Of Nations.
This year’s Egypt side is lead by Roma’s Mohammed Salah. The pacy winger has scored twice for Egypt, including an important goal in the semifinal against Burkina Faso. They also feature one of the tournament’s best defenses. Egypt has only allowed one goal in their five matches, so far.
44-year-old Essam El-Hadary at the African Cup of Nations for Egypt:
4 clean sheets
2 pens saved
Age is just a number.
Egypt has a core of players that play in the Egyptian Premier Leauge, including their keeper Essam El Hadary who saved two penalties in the semifinal shootout with Burkina Faso. While the base of the team resides in Egypt, there are a few stars from Europe. The Previously mentioned Salah, as well as Hull City’s Ahmed El Mohamady and Stoke City’s Ramadan Sobhi. Arsenal’s Mohamed El Nenny hasn’t played due to injury.
Trying to stop Egypt from winning a record eighth title will be Cameroon, a nation with its own proud history at this tournament. The Indomitable Lions will go for their fifth title, but their drought extends much further back than Egypt. They last won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2002 when they beat Senegal. Samuel Eto’o was on that 2002 team.
This year’s Cameroon side had to go through Ghana to reach this final, and they’ve been buoyed by an unlikely source. Defender Michael Ngadeu Ngadjui has scored twice this tournament, including the match-winning goal in the semifinals. Ngadeu Ngadjui, who plays his club soccer in the Czech Republic, has been an important part of a defense that has only conceded twice this tournament.
Cameroon will be happy to get goal scoring from the likes of Ngadeu Ngadjui, but they would like to get some more offense from their forwards. Against Egypt’s strong defense, the likes of Christian Bassogog and Benjamin Moukandjo will need to find a way to score. Both Bassogog and Moukandjo play for European club teams, and each has a goal this tournament.
With two teams coming into Sunday’s match-up with a combined total of three goals against in 10 total matches, the final sets up to be a defensive affair. It should make for a special game as two of the continent’s biggest teams go at it. With a combined total of 11 championships between them, this is the final an excellent tournament deserves. If you haven’t been tuning in yet this tournament, there is still time. The final in Gabon will kick off Sunday at 2 pm eastern.