African Cup: The stage set for a titanic battle

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{image-african nations cup_09022008.jpg}Accra (Ghana), Feb 9: The stage is set for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations between Africa"s most successful teams in the tournament"s history. Two bruising semi-final battles on Thursday night confirmed the final between Cameroon and Egypt and it could be a nerve cracking showdown.

Cameroon and Egypt eliminated the most highly-fancied sides dipped to contest the final tomorrow. Hosts Ghana, backed by a strong 44,000 home supporters, fell 1-0 to Cameroon, while Ivory Coast suffered an unexpected humiliation when they were routed 4-1 by a gallant Egypt.
The success of Cameroon and Egypt underlined one important factor in football - team work. Cameroon and Egypt demonstrated the spirit of team work while Ghana and Ivory Coast lacked that element on this crucial night.

The defeat of Ivory Coast was the least expected as the Ivorians, with a galaxy of stars, had shown the highest level of pedigree and resilience since the campaign started.

And it will take them time to recover from that defeat, which also underlined Egypt"s edge over the West Africans in the Cup of Nations. In 2006, Egypt defeated the Ivorians on penalties to win the title for the fifth time. The Elephants retained the same side for two years and looked more mature and prepared for the Ghana 2008.

But an organised Egyptian outfit, coached by local Ali Hassan Shehata, surprised many, not least themselves, when they dominated their opponents with delightful football. A comprehensive 4-1 triumph will definitely instil fear in the Elephants anytime they face Egypt.

For Ghana, it was a difficult night when they were unable to press through the tight Cameroonian defence and seldom did they make any meaningful attack. The Black Stars appeared to have no options, and maybe they had limited alternatives to cope without defence pillar John Mensah aka “The Rock of Gibraltar"".

Mensah, suspended in their quarter final against Egypt, sat on the terraces and watched as his side failed to cope with hard-tackling and vicious Cameroon who were always dangerous on the break.

It was lack of attacking thrust that cost Ghana. Their midfield engine, Michael Essien, was dropped deep as a stopper and the team totally lacked cohesion to press forward.

It was this lack of forward mobility that gave Cameroon much room in the midfield to launch their missiles that culminated in their crucial goal in the 70th minute. It was a goal that Ghana had little to do to stop and neither did they have the capacity to reply. It was a night of doom for Ghana and Ivory Coast!

Now the stage is set for the two reknown protagonists in African football. Egypt, the founders of CAF and the inaugural winners of the crown in 1957, have won the title five times. Cameroon, the most reliable team at the World stage, have clinched the crown a record four times.

A win for Cameroon will cancel Egypt"s supremacy and put them square but will have an additional edge over their opponents, because already striker Samuel Eto"o has set history as Africa"s all-time top scorer in CAN.

The two sides have fought bruising battles before and one of the memorable one was in the CAN 1986 final when Egypt beat Cameroon in front of 120,000 spectators at the Cairo National Stadium. CAF have classified this contest as the biggest Cup final in Africa.

In 1998, Egypt eliminated Cameroon in the semi-finals on their way to win the crown in Burkina Faso. Then in 2005, Egypt handed Cameroon a devastating blow when the Pharaohs beat the Indomitable Lions in Yaounde to deny them a chance to World Cup in Germany in 2006.

Then in 2006, Egypt underlined their supremacy over Cameroon when they hit them in the semis to romp into the final where they shut out Ivory Coast to wrestle the title for the fifth time.

That dominance of Egypt over Cameroon was once more highlighted, and this time in a big way, when in their opening group C matches Kumasi, Egypt pelted Cameroon 4-2.

But will history repeat itself? Egypt and Cameroon are poised for a titanic battle and the Pharaohs will be scheming to underline their supremacy over their arch-rivals.

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