Africa Cup of Nations review: Knockout phase

By Steve Mitchell

African Cup of Nations Preview

The Quarter-Finals

As the tournament entered its final straight, no country had stamped any authority on proceedings.

Ivory Coast were still favourites but the momentum was certainly with hosts Angola as they kicked off the quarter-finals against Ghana. The Black Stars were coming to terms with losing their talisman Michael Essien to serious injury, but Milovan Rajevac’s young charges tore up the script and after Asamoah Gyan had put his side ahead on 15 minutes with a superbly taken goal, the belief ebbed away from the host nation.

At the game’s conclusion, an ocean of tears on the pitch and in the stands flooded the stadium, Angolan dreams were left in tatters and Ghana marched on to the semi-finals. Didier Drogba and his Ivory Coast team faced Algeria in Cabinda. The Elephants were overwhelming favourites to reach the semi-finals and after four minutes, the match was going to form as Salomon Kalou put his country ahead. But six minutes before the interval, Karim Matmour levelled thing for Algeria.

In the second-half, the game became a stalemate as the Algerian’s stifled Drogba and company. With just one minute of normal time remaining, Abdul Kadar Keita finally broke down Algerian resistance to put the Elephants 2-1 ahead, a semi-final berth now looked assured.

Unfortunately, no-one told Madjid Bougherra whose 92nd minute equaliser forced the game into extra time. Just two minutes into the extra period, Hamer Bouazza gave the Algerians a shock lead and the Ivory Coast lost direction and lost belief. In a tournament full of surprises, Algeria had just given it the biggest one of all. Cameroon faced defending champions Egypt in a game many people thought would contain one of the finalists.

The match was a cagey affair and after 90 minutes the scores were locked at 1-1. Emana Achille for Cameroon, and Ahmed Hassan had scored first-half goals in the space of 12 minutes of each other, but a dire second period produced little action and an extra 30 minutes was called for.

Egypt stepped up a gear and totally dominated the extra time period, a second goal from Hassan and one from Afash Nagy put pay to Cameroon hopes. Samuel Eto’o made no impression on the match for the Indomitable Lions and Paul Le Guen’s team crumbled under intense Egyptian pressure. The Pharoah’s were dreaming of a third consecutive Cup of Nations. In the final match of the last eight, Nigeria faced Zambia.

The match was a dour affair with both teams seemingly to frightened to commit to winning the contest. After 120 minutes of utterly forgettable football, the Super Eagles triumphed in the penalty shoot-out to set up a semi-final date against Ghana. The other semi-final pitted Egypt against their deadly rivals Algeria.

Quarter-Final results:
Angola 0-1 Ghana
Ivory Coast 2-3 Algeria
Egypt 3-1 Cameroon (AET)
Zambia 0-0 Nigeria (Nigeria win 5-4 on penalties)

The Semi-Finals

Luanda was the setting for the clash between Ghana and Nigeria. Ghana’s young charges, buoyed by their win over hosts Angola, looked to be favourites to progress to the final.

Could the Nigerians stop the tournaments outstanding player, Asamoah Gyan, from getting on the score sheet again?

After 21 minutes we had our answer as Gyan grabbed the game’s only goal. The former Udinese man has become hot property, with many English Premiership clubs keeping tabs on his performances in Angola. A summer move may be in the pipeline.

The Nigerians have disappointed yet again, their semi-final place flattering them. The team were functional without being particularly pleasing on the eye and they finally succumbed to the extra quality shown by the Black Stars. The second semi-final was a chance for Egypt to avenge the defeat handed out to them by Algeria in the World Cup play-off in November. In the cauldron of the Benguela Stadium, the Pharoah’s absolutely destroyed their bitter rivals.

Ibrahim Hosny, Mohamed Zidan, Abdel Mohamed and Mohamed Nagy were on target as the Egyptians served up an attacking master class to banish the memories of missing out on this summer’s big showdown in South Africa. The Cup of Nations is their speciality and Algeria never came close to prizing it away from them.

Semi-Final results:
Ghana 1-0 Nigeria
Algeria 0-4 Egypt

Third Place play-off

The match nobody wants to play in took place in Benguela on Saturday evening with Nigeria taking on Algeria. A goal from Malaga’s Victor Obinna was enough to give the Super Eagles third spot as a crestfallen Algeria side left the competition to concentrate on their World Cup preparation. Fabio Cappello will now have a better insight into one of England’s group opponents in South Africa.

Third Place play-off result:
Nigeria 1-0 Algeria

The Final

So after three weeks of competition, Luanda was the setting for the final showdown between Egypt and Ghana. The smart money was on the Pharoah’s to win a third consecutive crown but with Gyan in sparkling form for the Black Stars, anything was possible. Unfortunately, the match never lived up to its billing with both sides seemingly lacking a cutting edge in the final third.

With the match heading for extra-time, Mohamed Abdelzaher wrote his name into Egyptian folklore by grabbing the game’s only goal in the 85th minute to break Ghanian hearts and give his country their third straight title. Egyptian Coach Hassan Shehata milked the moment as his delirious team prepared to celebrate.

The only black spot of the evening was an overzealous steward preventing the outstanding Zidan from celebrating with the supporters who has travelled from North Africa to support their country. A tournament of unpredictability had been won by a team who simply had more belief than any other, Angola can be proud of itself for putting on a wonderful show for the on looking world.

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