Preview: Egypt hope recent history sides with them in Nations Cup final

After Cameroon failed to prevail against Egypt in their last six meetings, the Pharaohs will be hoping their seventh meeting ends in their favor

Omar Zaazou , Saturday 4 Feb 2017,
Egypt's forward Mohamed Salah (L) celebrates with Egypt's midfielder Mahmoud Hassan after scoring a goal during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations semi-final football match between Burkina Faso and Egypt at the Stade de l'Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on February 1, 2017 AFP

Seven-time African champions Egypt hope recent history would continue to take their side when they take on four-time winners Cameroon in the Nations Cup final at Stade d'Angondjé in Libreville on Sunday.

Since last beating Egypt in the 2002 Cup of Nations quarter-finals, Cameroon have failed to prevail in six competitive meetings between the African powerhouses.

A goalless group draw in the 2004 Nations Cup, a result that meant Egypt waved goodbye to the tournament, was followed by four victories for the Pharaohs and a single draw that eventually denied Cameroon a place in the 2006 World Cup finals.

Since that draw, Egypt have continued to prove Cameroon's stumbling block in two consecutive Cup of Nations, prevailing 4-2 in a group-stage clash before a priceless Mohamed Abou-Treika winner gave the North Africans the 2008 title at the expense of the Indomitable Lions in the final.   

In 2010, Egypt came again to knock out their illustrious opponents, this time from the quarter-finals when an Ahmed Hassan own-goal was overturned by three goals (including a double from the then-Ahly man) to win the match 3-1.

With recent history siding with the Egyptians, Cameroon will be hoping they could bring to an end their rivals' domination and avenge their recent losses at their hands.

Curiously, both teams were not initially tipped by their home fans to reach the 2017 Nations Cup final, with this Cameroon generation in particular considered their least-talented in decades.

No less than eight players have made themselves unavailable for their national team ahead of the Gabon finals, with English Premier League defense duo Joel Matip (Liverpool) and Alan Nyom (West Bromwich) refusing to take part.

Cameroon manager Hugo Broos then decided to enter the biennial competition relying on the team's organization as a whole rather than depend upon certain stars, whose egos may prove detrimental to the side.

The result was a young, dynamic and a defensively-disciplined team who eventually propelled themselves to the final at the expense of an illustrious Ghana side, who comprised the likes of Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew and Christian Atsu, in the semis.

The statements of Belgian boss Broos just a day ahead of the highly-anticipated final quite reflect the mood among the Cameroon fans and their expectation of this generation ahead of the tournament.

"We knew we had an image to redress. There was a disagreement between us and the supporters and we had to change this," Broos told a news conference previewing the game.

"We knew we had to get out of the group and we knew that if we did this, we'd already done well."   

Similarly underrated Egypt

Egypt's circumstances don't look really different to Cameroon's, with their fans knowing quite well this generation does not boast the qualities they once had during their glory years under former boss Hassan Shehata.

A dismal opening goalless draw with Mali did not bode well with the Egyptian supporters, who started to question manager Hector Cuper's strategy of playing deep and giving opponents possession.

A late 1-0 victory over Uganda in the following group game saw Egypt gradually grow into the competition until a deserved 1-0 win over Group G rivals Ghana meant the latter surrendered top spot to their opponents.

Egypt's strategy continued to prove effective against Morocco and Burkina Faso, with center-back duo Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazy exceptionally commanding their own penalty area as opponents piled up the pressure.

Forty-four-year-old keeper Essam El-Hadary was no less vital after replacing injured keeper Ahmed El-Shennawi in the Mali draw, with the veteran's heroics in the 4-3 shootout semi-final win over Burkina Faso a testament to his superb shot-stopping qualities.      

Evergreen El-Hadary, who had similarly crucial roles in Egypt's triumphant 2006, 2008 and 2010 Nations Cup campaigns, admitted the team had mainly focused on making a good impression and do their best to reach latter stages before flying to Gabon.

"Since we qualified for this edition of the Afcon, having been absent for the past three editions, we only had in mind to come here, to make a good impression and to do our best to reach the final," El Hadary told reporters on Saturday.

"We weren't sure of it but as we've progressed, it's come," he added. "Myself and my teammates are one family and we have one objective, to win the cup.

"We've made it our mission to reach the final and now we have. Together with our will, our determination and our loyalty to our country, we're ready to lift the title," added El-Hadary, who has 150 international caps.

The Egypt management will be delighted to welcome back Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny, who has missed out on the wins over Morocco and Burkina Faso due to a calf injury.

They will be however sweating on the fitness of left-back Mohamed Abdel-Shafi, who remains a major doubt for the match despite taking part in Friday's training session.

The absence of Ahly Jeddah defender Abdel-Shafi would mean full-back Ahmed Fathi is likely to continue in the left-back slot, after the inexperienced left-footed Karim Hafez had failed to convince against Morocco.

Sporting Braga striker Ahmed Hassan Kouka is ruled out through a pelvic injury alongside long-term absentee Marwan Mohsen, who sustained a cruciate ligament tear against Morocco.

Zamalek winger Mahmoud Kahraba, currently on loan to Saudi's Ittihad Jeddah, should have led the line for Egypt in the final, but a second yellow card means Cuper will be also missing the dynamic forwards' services upfront.

AS Roma star Mohamed Salah is now likely to be fielded in the lone striker role, with Stoke City winger Ramadan Sobhi expected to fill in the right wing position in an attacking line of three comprising Mahmoud Trezeguet and Abdallah El-Said.

The dynamism and pace of the Cameroon forwards, including Christian Bassogog and Benjamin Moukandjo, means Cuper would be determined to deny them space as much as possible, continuing with his reactive approach.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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