CAIRO: The 25th African Cup of Nations produced many memorable moments throughout three weeks of highly-competitive football, with Egypt winning the prestigious title for the fifth time and setting a new record of winning the title. Backed by an eager crowd of 74,100 at Cairo International Stadium, the pharaohs faced Ivory Coast; a young vigorous side which didn t bounce-back their defense, but chose to play for 180 minutes intensely. Following an even-first half, the Ivory Coast nicknamed the elephants could have sealed the winner 14 minutes from the end as Didier Drogba scooped a 10-yard box ball over Egypt s cross bar. Both teams had to resort to extra-time. The host nation could have rapped their task at the extra-time, as the referee awarded what could be described as a dubious penalty, but Ahmed Hassan missed as the ball hit the post. As both teams failed to score, a penalty shoot-out was the final resort, where Egypt s goal keeper Essam El Hadary was the hero whom everybody cheered for. El Hadary was able to save two penalties from Didier Drogba and Bakary Kone before Mohamed Abu Treika sealed Egypt home to end an intense penalty-shoot out with a 4-2 score-line.
Following an entertaining first round, the consecutive games produced more intense action as the level of competition went up. We could recall two games during the quarter-finals phase, Tunisia versus Nigeria, as well as Cameroon against Ivory Coast where a marathon penalty-shootout was the decider. On the other hand, Egypt had a comfortable 4-1 victory over the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was rather a pity that the black horse of the tournament, Guinea, was knocked by Senegal; a side that was fortunate to make it through to the quarter-final.
Into the semi-finals, Egypt was able to over-come a tough Senegalese side that gave the host nation a hard time throughout all 90 minutes. Ivory Coast on the other hand surpassed an atrocious Nigerian side, through a single strike by Didier Drogba.
This year s tournament showed the great ability that African stars playing in Europe possess in turning the games whether in favor or against their sides. We could just recall Samual Eto, crowned as the tournament s top scorer, scoring five goals during the first round helping the lions of Cameroon to top their group before missing a penalty during the shootout against the Ivory Coast that lead to the knockout of Cameroon. Drogba scored three decisive goals, most memorably against Nigeria in the semi-final, but his penalty miss against Egypt dictated their loss of the cup. Moreover, Arsenal s new striker Emmanuel Adebayor of Togo and the qualifier s top scorer, failed to live up to expectations as he was regarded as being detrimental to Togo and a reason for their exit.
Mido of Egypt started the tournament on high note, scoring a terrific header against Libya. But then was unfortunate to get an injury blow during the Ivory Coast game at the end of the first round and missed Egypt s quarter-final game against Congo before a confrontation with Egypt s Head Coach Hassan Shehata..
Nwankwo Kanu of Nigeria had a wonderful tournament as well, through his short pulsating spills alongside striker Obafemi Martins that helped Nigeria to seize the third-place for the second consecutive time. Kolo Toure was a formidable force in the Ivory Coast s defense, with his consistent form the Arsenal right-back was a recognizable star that helped the elephants to reach the final for the first time since 1992.
There were plenty of rising talents that promise to become the upcoming stars in the continent. Amr Zaki and Emad Motaeb two of Egypt s promising talents proved to be a striking force throughout Egypt s race to the title, Nigeria s midfielder John Obi Mikel, who won the best youth player in the tournament, proved to be a huge force within the defensive area and is expected to follow the steps of veteran midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha. Senegal s Mamadou Niang has been an influential striker throughout the tournament, his memorable goal against Guinea helped Senegal to reach the semi-final.
If we have a close look at the tournament s statistics, we would find out that one of the main reasons behind Egypt s triumph is it s solid defense, the trio Ibrahim Said , Abdel Zaher El Saka and Wael Gomaa were able to block and cease many attempts upon the Egyptian Keeper Essam El Hadary, whom his high performance earned him the best keeper in the tournament. As a result, the Egyptian became the strongest defense conceding only three goals in six games.
Furthermore, the Egypt s attack has been the strongest scoring 12 goals, thanks to the contribution of Emad Motaeb, Amr Zaki, and veteran striker captain Hossam Hassan who also has a been a part in Egypt s triumph of the title in 1986 as well as 1998 in Burkina Faso where he was crowned as the tournament s top scorer.
A total of 71 goals were scored throughout the 32 games, excluding the penalty shoot-out, during the first-round as it self 54 goals were scored with an average of two and a quarter per game. In the later stages starting with the quarter-finals passing by semi-finals and final, a total of 17 goals were scored in eight games. As a result the average number of goals scored in a game throughout the competition has been 2.218.
As a whole the standard of referring throughout the competition has been good, few incidents caused controversy, among them the penalty awarded for Ivory Coast against Morocco, followed by a retaken penalty for Egypt against Senegal, as well as the dubious penalty awarded to Egypt in the final against the Ivory Coast.
In regard to the level of hosting the event, things went pretty well in particular the media services and the transportation accessibility. There were no real concerns in regard to training fields or the level of service provided by the hosting hotels.
However, concerns were raised at the standard of the Cairo Stadium pitch by number of players, as well as the outspread of black market pertaining to match tickets in particular those of Egypt.
You just can t deny the unprecedented backing of Egyptian supporters throughout the tournament. In each of the six games, there were continuous chanting and cheering for the Pharaohs. Those crowds had definitely a positive role in guiding Egypt to the fifth title.
As the dazzling action for the 25th African Cup of Nations come to an end, African soccer promises more outstanding action in two years time at Ghana, where the next African Cup of Nations will be played.