Cup Of Nations 2008 – Song’s Mistake
“So many world stars make it a very special tournament,” said the gravelly voice of Roger Milla. “This is the best Cup of Nations ever,” added Ghana coach Claude Leroy, who should know: he has coached at six of them in total, stretching back 22 years and worked as a TV pundit on others. “We have some of the best players in the world at this competition.”
The form book, too, went up in smoke, with Egypt winning in handsome fashion. The Pharaohs might have been the defending champions but there were few who gave them any chance of a successful defence of their title in the heat and humidity of Ghana. According to the pundits, north African sides do not travel very well. But that theory was dismissed by a brilliant brand of flowing football played by a highly mobile unit who were quietly determined to prove their success on home spoil in 2006 was no fluke.
“This is a much better team than that of 2006. The players have gained more international experience and with the same coaching staff, we have become like a family unit,” said Mohamed Aboutrika, who again was responsible for the winning goal of the tournament.
It was his penalty that decided a post-match shoot-out in Egypt’s favour in Cairo in 2006 but at Accra’s Ohene Djan stadium, Egypt won it fair and square on the field, with Aboutrika’s 77lh minute goal seeing off Cameroon in the final.
Egypt had to toil in a bruising battle against a physically strong Cameroon side but it was, ironically, some wrestling of their own that ensured the triumph. It was the persistence of Mohamed Zidan which forced Cameroon captain Rigobert Song into an error and Aboutrika was on hand to scoop up the loose ball and claim the winner.
Egypt had already beaten the Indomitable Lions in their opening group match in Kumasi, and then also saw off the challenge of Sudan, Zambia and Angola to reach the semi-finals, where they then proceeded to pulverise the star-studded selection from Cote d’lvoire.
Up until the semi-final stage, it seemed it was the Ivorians’ tournament to lose. And that they did, in spectacular style, imploding in Kumasi as Egypt’s perfect tactics condemned them to a 4-1 defeat.
Egypt coach Hassan Shehata, now only the second man ever to win back-to-back CAN titles, admits he is unable to sleep the night before matches and as the tournament wore on would have been increasingly tired.
He plotted the downfall of Didier Drogba’s team with precision, flooding the midfield to force Drogba and his fellow attackers wide and rendering them ineffective. At the other end, Egypt picked off the Ivorian mistakes with the accuracy of a marksman and left the Chelsea striker and company shell-shocked.
“We’ll just have to try again in 2010,” the Cote d’lvoire captain remarked philosophically after the defeat. “This is still a trophy we want to win,” added Drogba, who had missed the key penalty in the post-final shootout in 2006.