LIBREVILLE — The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon shrugged off their pre-event upsets to win the African Nations Cup for the fifth time, hitting back from a goal down to defeat record champions Egypt 2-1 in Gabon.
Coach Hugo Broos was furious before the finals when eight members of his provisional squad pulled out, claiming injury or – as in the case of Liverpool’s Joel Matip – a sudden decision to retire from the international game.
If Broos continues in his post for the continuing World Cup qualifying competition those eight players may find they have paid a costly price for the reluctance to interrupt their European club campaigns.
For Egypt and their Argentinian coach Hector Cuper defeat was bitter indeed. This was the first time the Pharaohs had lost in the final in 55 years and was luckless Cuper’s sixth defeat in a major final in his 24-year managerial career.
Egypt had not lost for 24 matches in the African finals and they appeared bound for a record-extending eighth success when fit-again Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny cut in from the right and surprised Joseph Ondoa with a rising shot which beat the goalkeeper on his near post.
The Pharaohs, shrugging off the political and security problems besetting their domestic game, had beaten Cameroon twice before in the final, first claiming a shootout victory in Cairo in 1986 and then a 1-0 win in Ghana in 2008.
In front of a crowd including FIFA president Gianni Infantino, they appeared content to let Cameroon dominate possession while their defence and midfield stifled the opposition threat and left veteran keeper Essam Al Hadary with little to do.
Egypt, encouraged by Elneny’s goal, even brieffly maintained the pace in pursuit of potentially decisive second goal. Their passing was sharper and they varied their short and long game to impressive effect.
Cameroon suffered a further disruption when Sochaux defender Adolphe Teikeu was injured and had to be substituted. However they gained more from the chance to catch their breath than Egypt and dominated play up until half-time, commanding 63pc of the ball.
Broos, with nothing now to lose, brought on Besiktas striker Vincent Aboubakar in place of Spartak Trnava’s ineffective Robert Ndip Tambe and was rewarded with a 59th-minute headed equaliser from Nicolas Nkoulou. The Lyon defender, substituting for Teikeu, thus recorded only his second international goal on his 75th appearance.
Egypt lacked the spirit and conviction to fight back. Cameroon continued to power forward and, with the threat looming of the extra halfhour for the third time in four tournaments, grabbed the glory was a nimbly acrobatic strike from Aboubakar.
Cameroon go on to face world champions Germany, Asian champions Australia and Copa America winners Chile in the Confederations Cup in Russia in June.
The Egyptians complained about a possible handball and high foot but without much conviction. They had conceded two goals in a game for the first time since November 2014 and against the better team.
** Burkina Faso beat Ghana 1-0 in Saturday’s third place play-off.