CAIRO: After 90 minutes of strenuous football, followed by injury time and two periods of extra time, the penalty shootout becomes the only way of deciding a winner. Such was the case in Saturday s two quarter-finals at the 25th African Cup of Nations, as the indomitable lions of Cameroon lost to the Ivory Coast following a lengthy penalty shoot-out. Earlier on, defending champions Tunisia lost their title against Nigeria after a tense penalty shootout. From the outset, it seemed that both Cameroon and the Ivory Coast were playing cautiously. There were no real chances at either end during the first 30 minutes. Then, Arouna Kone almost took the lead for the Ivory Coast, after he confronted Hamidou Soleymanou, Cameroon s goalkeeper, but couldn t quite control the ball at the last moment. Six minutes from the break, Samual Eto was on the verge of putting Cameroon on top, as he broke into the Ivorian defense before his shot was brilliantly blocked by Ivory Coast s goal Keeper Jean-Jacques Tizie.
The same level of vigilance remained throughout the second half and few serious challenges were put forth. On the 53rd minute, Cameroon s Captain, Rigobert Song, headed a swerved corner-kick just over the bar. Ivorian Didier Drogba responded quickly, as he fired a left-footed shot near the post. Fifteen minutes from the end, Ivory Coast s goalkeeper tipped away a 25-yard shot by Cameroon s left-back Essama Atouba.
With both teams heading into extra-time, the tension was building. On the third minute, Ivory Coast’s Bakari Kone finished off a far-range shot that bounced off the post. A minute later, Cameroon s right-back Nejtab Geremy fired a free-kick that ricocheted off Tizie s bar. Two minutes later, Cameroon equalized through Albert Meyong, who received a pass within the penalty-area before he comfortably slipped the ball into Tizie s net. With three minutes left, Christian Romaric should have snatched the game for the Ivory Coast as he confronted Cameroon s goalkeeper within the penalty area, but sent a loose ball into the hands of Hamidou Soleymanou.
Into the penalty shoot-out, which saw 11 consecutive goals scored for each team, including two scored by the goalkeepers. But Cameroon s Samual Eto, a renowned scorer around the world, couldn t put home his second penalty shot, sending it sailing over the bar. Didier Drogba, with the next chance, converted the penalty into the right corner of Cameroon s goal to put the lengthy penalty shootout to an end with a precious win for Ivory Coast, who go through to the semi-finals.
Following the game, Henri Michel, Ivory Coast s head coach expressed his joy at the victory. I m really delighted to win today. I would like to give my credit to all my players who fought hard today to prove that we fully deserved to qualify for the World Cup, he said. On the other hand, Arthur George, Cameroon s head coach, thought that his team should have done more earlier on. We should have won during normal time, we had the better chances but we failed to score, and thus we had to go to a penalty shootout, George said.
Another match took place between defending champions Tunisia and Nigeria. The game began fast-paced, with both teams eagerly looking for an opener. The 3rd minute saw Ziad El Jaziri sprint through the Nigerian defense before he confronted Nigeria s goalkeeper who blocked El Jaziri s close-range shot. Two minutes later, Obinna Victor Nsofor took the lead for Nigeria, as he fired from a rebounded ball off Tunisia s goalkeeper Ali Boumnijei.
On the 14th minute, El Jaziri of Tunisia scored a penalty after being tackled by Nigeria s Joseph Enakarhire, who was booked for the challenge. Tunisia s left-back Jose Klaiton failed to equalize as Nigeria s goalkeeper blocked the ball.
The Nigerians were the better side throughout the match, trying to take full advantage of the gaps in the Tunisian left and the right flanks. Ten minutes from the interval, John Utaka broke into the right flank of Tunisia s defense before sending his shot over the bar.
Into extra-time, the Nigerians seemed to possess better physique and more stamina than the Tunisians, who bounced back in the hopes of a penalty shootout similar to the one against Nigeria two years ago at the 24th African Cup of Nations.
The Tunisians took the lead early into the penalty shoot-out, as Joseph Yobo of Nigeria missed. The Nigerian’s dug themselves a deeper hole, with Atanda Ayila Yussuf missing another penalty. Nigeria s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama stood firm to save two consecutive penalties to even the score. Seven more penalties were scored, including two by the goalkeepers before Vincent Enyeama blocked Riadh Bou Azizi s penalty, clinching a semi-final for Nigeria.