/ 8 February 2008

Holders Egypt to meet Cameroon in final

Holders Egypt and Cameroon will meet in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final after two remarkable semifinals on Thursday condemned hot favourites Côte d’Ivoire and hosts Ghana to elimination.

Defending champions Egypt ended Ivorian dreams with a 4-1 win in Kumasi, prompting thousands of celebrating fans to pour on to the streets in Cairo and bringing traffic to a standstill in many neighbourhoods.

Earlier, Ghana suffered a heart-breaking home defeat with a 1-0 loss to Cameroon.

Victory was bittersweet for Cameroon defender Andre Bikey, who will miss the final after being red-carded for shoving a first-aid assistant in a bizarre incident at the end of the game.

Two of Africa’s most successful countries will meet again less than three weeks after staging a dramatic start to the tournament, when Egypt beat Cameroon 4-2 in Kumasi in a first round group game on January 22.

Cameroon continued their recovery from that early setback by edging out Ghana with journeyman striker Alain Nkong scoring the game’s only goal 19 minutes from time.

Two goals in five minutes midway through the second half from Amr Zaki steered Egypt to an upset win over the Ivorians, who were outplayed on the night.

Ahmed Fathi gave Egypt an early lead after his 12th minute shot was deflected in and Egypt midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika applied a final touch in stoppage time at the end.

Côte d’Ivoire, who had defender Kolo Toure back from injury but saw him twice outfoxed by Zaki, looked to be making a fight of it after scoring through Abdelkader Keita immediately after going 2-0 down.

But it proved only a temporary respite as Egypt’s bottled up Ivorian captain Didier Drogba and goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari made some key saves.

Playing in only his second international, Cameroon’s Nkong profited from a defence-splitting pass from Samuel Eto’o to score.

With it went hopes of a home success for Ghana, who had invested heavily in stadiums for the tournament.

”I was never as sad in my career as I am today,” said Ghana coach Claude Le Roy, close to tears at a post-match press conference.

Egypt already have won a record five Nations Cup titles while Cameroon have lost just once in five appearances in the final. The two teams played in the 1986 final in Cairo, won on penalties by Egypt.

Neighbours Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire meet each other in Kumasi on Saturday in the third place play-off. – Reuters