LUANDA, ANGOLA // Hassan Shehata's Egypt confirmed their place in African football history last night with a 1-0 victory over Ghana in the Cup of Nations final. It completed an unprecedented hat-trick of titles for Shehata's side and, perhaps, began to make amends for missing out, again, on a place at the World Cup.
Both Egypt's captain, Ahmed Hassan, who has now won four Nations Cups, as many as any other country, and Mohamed Zidan, the forward, had both spoken of the need to make a point after missing out on the showpiece in South Africa, and they certainly did that. In this Nations Cup, Egypt won every game they played, racking up 15 goals in their six matches, while beating four teams - Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria and Ghana - who will be at the World Cup, by an aggregate score of 11-2. "It's not the greatest team of all time," said Shehata, " but they've won three championships and this team has played the best. "Today we're the best team in the CAN. Before there were good teams like Ghana and Angola - and Algeria are a good team, but today we are the best team in Africa." He refused to confirm whether he'd be back for the next tournament to be hosted in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in 2012.
Without question Egypt were the best team at the tournament, but last night represented their sternest test. Ghana, badly affected by injury to key players, had surprised with their progress to the final but despite an inexperienced line-up they took the game to their opponents. Egypt, who lost to Algeria in a bad-tempered World Cup qualification play-off in Sudan in November, started with nine of their winning team from two years ago while only two of Ghana's side had been born when they last won the Nations Cup in 1982. "We played well," said the Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac. "But we are not an experienced team and in the end the experience of the Egypt team was crucial. This was a big experience for the World Cup. We still have plenty of time to prepare."
Ghana created more of the limited chances in a cagey game, devoid of any tempo and pace in the muggy and humid conditions in the Angolan capital. There was even a sense that Ghana were beginning to mount a sustained spell of pressure when, with 84 minutes played, Mohamed Nagui, the substitute, exchanged passes with Zidan, accelerated into the box and curled his finish beyond the left hand of Richard Kingson in the Ghanaian goal to send the sizable pocket of Egypt fans into raptures.
The presentation ceremony, with its laser show and fireworks, and the cup delivered by a man who flew in with jet-pack, may have been new, but as Hassan - named man-of-the-match - accepted the gold trophy from Issa Hayatou and pointed to the skies to signal his thanks to Allah, it all felt very familiar. As it was in Cairo, as it was in Accra, so it was again in Luanda. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org