A goal worthy of a trophy
Cameroon came back from 1–0 down to Egypt in the Africa Cup of Nations final to win 2–1 on a skillful display from substitute Vincent Aboubakar in the 88th minute. Aboubakar, who came on at halftime, chested down a long pass, looped the ball over the head of a defender, and placed a bouncing volley into the far side of the net to give Cameroon their fifth AFCON title and first since 2002.
Winning the tournament this year was a particularly impressive achievement for the Indomitable Lions as seven notable inclusions in their 35-man provisional squad declined to participate (Liverpool defender Joel Matip, Nancy goalkeeper Guy N’dy Assembe, Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana, West Brom defender Allan Nyom, Bordeaux defender Maxime Poundje, Lille defender Ibrahim Amadou, and Marseille midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa).
Perhaps because of these controversial absences, Cameroon got off to a shaky start in the tournament, drawing 1–1 with eventual semifinalists Burkina Faso in their first match, coming from behind to beat Guinea-Bissau 2–1 in their second, then drawing 0–0 with Gabon in their third to finish second in Group A. In the quarterfinals, they edged out Senegal in a penalty shootout after 120 scoreless minutes. But in the semifinals, they finally established themselves, beating Ghana 2–0.
Egypt, meanwhile, did not concede a single goal until their semifinal against Burkina Faso, thanks to the stellar form of 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam El Hadary. And after Mohamed Elneny opened the scoring in the final with a goal in the 22nd minute, they looked almost certain to win their eighth AFCON title.
But Nicolas N’Koulou equalized for Cameroon in the 59th minute and Aboubakar stunned Egypt shortly before full time to pull off the upset by scoring twice as many goals in one half as Egypt conceded in the rest of the tournament all together, earning a place in the Confederations Cup.
It’s hard not to wonder what those seven players who refused to take part in this wonderful experience must be feeling right now, especially when Matip played the full 90 minutes of Liverpool’s 2–0 loss to Hull City the day before. Cameroon manager Hugo Broos wasn’t feeling too sorry for them, though.
“There was a lot of trouble before, players who wouldn’t come with us,” Broos said after Sunday’s 2–1 win over Egypt.
“OK, it’s their decision. But maybe they are saying now to themselves, ‘S — -! Why didn’t I go with them?’”
Life can be punishing.