Two of Africa’s most successful teams, the Pharaohs of Egypt and Indomitable Lions of Cameroon will once again battle it out for who takes over the crown from Cote d’Ivoire as king of the continent on Sunday in the final of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2017) at the Stade de l’Amitie, Libreville in Gabon
Egypt, record seven-time African champions, made a sensational return to the AFCON after missing the last three editions. The Pharaohs, who clinched the title in their last appearance in 2010, qualified for the showpiece at the expense of continental powerhouse, Nigeria. Hector Cuper’s side were one of three nations who didn’t taste defeat en route to the final of the competition.
The Pharaohs found were understandably written off prior to the commencement of the tournament due to their poor records in recent times. But a string of impressive displays in Gabon has put the Pharaohs in contention for the title. Egypt was drawn in Group D, the tournament’s so-called group of death – alongside Ghana, Mali, and Uganda. And it started in a rather unimpressive fashion for the North Africans, who could only scoop a solitary point in a barren stalemate in their opening game against Mali; before beating Uganda and Ghana 1-0 apiece to top the group.
This set the tone for an epic quarterfinal clash against Morocco with Cuper’s team emerging victorious by a slim one-goal margin. But the Egyptians had to dig deeper to overcome Burkina Faso, winning the semi-final 4-3 on penalties, after drawing 1-1 in regulation time. This match was their first game that they conceded a goal in. Roma winger, Mohamed Salah with two goals, and goalkeeper, Essam El-Hadary, have been the standout stars for the Pharaohs.
Indomitable Lions of Cameroon just like Egypt, four-time champions, qualified for the Nations Cup without losing a single game. They emerged as group winners ahead of Mauritania and South Africa.
The Indomitable Lions’ preparation for the showpiece was dealt a huge blow after as many as eight players turned down the opportunity to feature in the competition. This includes Premier League duo Joel Matip and Allan Nyom alongside Schalke forward, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
“Times are changing. Before certain players were happy to come and play for Cameroon,” head coach, Hugo Broos said. “Now some clubs put pressure on their players. Those who are coming to the ends of their contracts prefer to stay in Europe in order to negotiate better deals.”
However, Broos’ team were not deterred and has instead excelled in their absence.
The Cameroonians were held in their first two games, by Burkina Faso and Gabon, before seeing off Equatorial Guinea 2-1 to finish as runner-up in Group A.
The West Africans then stunned pre-tournament favourites, Senegal, 5-4 on penalties before beating Ghana 2-0 in the semis. Skipper, Benjamin Moukandjo and young winger, Christian Bassogog, have both been exceptional for the four-time champions.
Egypt and Cameroon will face-off for the 27th time in the grand finale of the 2017 AFCON. The Pharaohs hold an absolute authoritative advantage over their rivals having beaten them 15 times and lost just five.
Cameroon, who will host the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, lost their last final in this tournament to Egypt nine years ago and they will have a tough test on their hands against Cuper’s side, who are in their ninth AFCON final – the joint-highest along with Ghana.
Both sides have previously met twice at this stage in 1986 and 2008, with Egypt coming out tops on both occasions. Broos’ team will be motivated by the fact that they have only lost once in eight finals and have conceded just once in Gabon.