The Pharaohs are kings again
Two burly, muscle-bound attendants carried the CAF Africa Cup of
Nations trophy into Accra's Ohene Djan stadium on a traditional
chair in which kings are usually hoisted in Ghana.
But the golden symbol of African footballing prowess is now winging its way back to the land of the Pharaohs after Egypt beat Cameroon 1-0 in Sunday's tense final.
It was as much as the defending champions deserved, putting on a consistent performance throughout the tournament and once again stamping their supremacy on the continent's football.
Two years ago they were victors for a record fifth time on home soil and needed a post-match penalty shootout to win. But the class of 2008 proved a far more polished outfit, starting the finals with a 4-2 rout of the Indomitable Lions and finishing off with a 1-0 victory over the same team in the decider.
Mohamed Aboutrika scored the only goal, profiting from the persistence of Mohamed Zidan. The Hamburg man had a virtual wrestling match with Cameroon captain Rigobert Song to supply a square pass that man-of-the-match Aboutrika calmly side footed home.
Zidan caught the ageing central defender off balance with his pace, effectively robbing him of the ball
The goal came 13 minutes from the end of a physically sapping battle, leaving both sides struggling with the heat and humidity in the Ghanaian capital.
Aboutrika has made a habit of netting winning goals. Two years ago he converted the decisive kick in the penalty shootout that saw Egypt edge out the Ivorians. He was also the scorer of the goal that won the 2006 CAF Champions League title for his club side Al Ahly.
"But scoring for your national team is a much better feeling. It is doing it for the whole country," he said afterwards.
On the balance of play Egypt had the better chances and it was only the talent of Cameroon goalkeeper Idriss Carlos Kameni that kept the score down to just a single goal.
The Espanyol net-minder made some fine stops to ensure the Indomitable Lions remained in the battle throughout a tense 90 minutes. His save to deny Emad Moteab in the 36th minute came at a vital juncture of game with less than ten minutes to go to the break.
After the interval, Kameni was also on hand to stop a powerful drive from Hosni Abd Rabou, whose performances over six matches earned him plaudits from all corners of the globe. He also hit the post with a diving header just after the hour mark.
Cameroon were finally galvanised after going down a goal and a jittery Egypt defence opened a window of opportunity in the last ten minutes of the contest. However, Essam Al Hadari made two saves and then Song went wide with his last-gasp header to make sure the title went Egypt's way.
As the gold tinsel paper blew into the Accra night sky, and the winning team engulfed Ghana's president John Kufuor to snatch at the trophy, so the abiding memory of this Cup of Nations will be one of Egyptian efficiency and overall class.