Part Two (Part One)
After the tragic opening to the finals there were hopes that but only Egypt rose to the challenge
Full marks, however, for the triumph of the Egyptians, who won six games on a trot at the tournament to claim the title again. They shattered several records in the process: a seventh African Nations Cup win, the first time it has been done three times in a row, and a run of unbeaten matches that stretches back from 2004 – their total is now 19 and counting.
Captain Ahmed Hassan, who at 34 was named player of the tournament for the second time in the last three editions, won a fourth Final – the first player to do so – while Hassan Shehata’s triple is a new bench mark for coaches.
Success is made even more admirable by the fact that Egypt played the tournament without key regulars Mohamed Aboutraika, Mohamed Barakat and Amr Zaki (who went to Hull City instead), and saw a player used only as a substitute emerge as the top goalscorer. Mohamed Nagui, known as Gedo, is a name for the future.
Egypt were a little jaded in the Final and were limited to ineffective long range shots before they suddenly caught Ghana’s defence cold with a swift passing move and the winner from Gedo five minutes from time.
But their five wins en route to the deciding match in Luanda were all evidence of the polished class and superior ability.
Egypt saw off Nigeria in their opening game, despite going a goal down early on, and repeated the same against Cameroon, in spite of gifting their opponents an own goal.
After a 4-0 win over Algeria in the semi-final, there was a smug satisfaction of revenge after defeat in November’s tempestuous World Cup play-off, which caused a major diplomatic crisis between the two Arabic-speaking countries.
Before their semi-final in Benguela, both Algeria and Egypt tried to temper talk of revenge by shutting out the media and keeping their players from any provocative pronouncements, but the air was edgy throughout. The game had three red cards but there was never any doubt about the winner.
Including Ghana in the Final, Egypt beat four of the six African teams who will play at this summer’s World Cup. They did not meet Ivory Coast, who Algeria ousted in the quarter-finals, and South Africa, who did not qualify, and it is now a major concern that the World Cup-bound sides played so poorly.
The star attractions, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o, departed without much impact leaving underrated Ghana the only team to offer hope as they overcame the absence of many key players, including Michael Essien, to advance to the Final. Drogba was largely anonymous as the Ivorian swagger turned into submission in their surprise quarter-final defeat by Algeria, while Eto’o toiled in lonesome fashion up front for Cameroon and saw his side undone by woeful defending.
Essien made just a cameo appearance. A hamstring injury from November meant he was never in the best of condition and played just 45 minutes for Ghana before being crunched on the knee by team-mates at training and he was back on the treatment table in London before Ghana had overcome the hosts in the last eight.
By finishing third, Nigeria have opened up an inevitable post mortem, and the tenure of coach Shaibu Amodu looked most shaky in the day immediately after his return home. The Super Eagles have now won bronze at four of the last five African Nations Cups but this time must consider themselves most fortunate to even get through to the final four.
The aura around Nigeria disappeared in a comedy of defensive errors and some hapless finishing upfront, notably from Everton’s Yakubu Aiyegbeni.
Mali fired coach Stephen Keshi days after the tournament, and the coaches of Benin, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and the host nation are also likely to move on. Angola always looked a side on the edge of disaster after squandering an unbelievable four-goal lead with 13 minutes left to play in their opening match against Mali.
It ended 4-4 but after that dramatic opening course, the 2010 African Nations Cup buffet served up play that play was tedious and often full of niggles and forced stoppages.
The tournament can thank its lucky stars it has a lucrative TV and marketing deal tied up for some time to come because this was no great advert for African soccer.