Cameroon came from behind to win their fifth Nations Cup in Libreville on Sunday as Vincent Aboubakar’s sublime late winner downed Egypt 2-1 before a partisan crowd in Gabon, ending the Indomitable Lions’ 15-year wait for the continental gold.
Mohamed Elneny had given Egypt the lead midway through the first half with a close-range effort, but Cameroon wrested back the initiative after substitute Nicolas Nkoulou headed home an equaliser in the 50th minute.
Aboubakar has largely been reduced to a peripheral player in this unfamiliar Cameroon side under coach Hugo Broos, but he delivered the goods when it mattered most as he flicked the ball over Aly Gabr in the 89th minute before volleying against the ground and past veteran stopper Essam El Hadary, to the delight of the crowd at the Stade de l’Amitie.
The triumph ends a miserable few years for Cameroon, who hadn’t reached a Nations Cup final since 2008 but have been revived under the management of Broos, with the manager reinvigorating the team with a series of new faces and unheralded players.
On this occasion, however, it was two of the squad’s more established names – N’Koulou and Aboubakar – who stepped up when it mattered most and fired the Lions to the grandest prize in the African game.
Throughout the Nations Cup, and notably in the semi-final against Burkina Faso, Egypt have largely been content to play a steady, methodical game, controlling the midfield and relying on the quality of Salah to forge openings.
During the opening stages in Libreville, however, they sought to be proactive and take the game to Cameroon, perhaps sensing that this Lions backline could be exposed.
They were almost ahead after just a minute and a half, when a neat interchange unpicked the Cameroon defence but Al-Ahly’s Abdallah El-Said could only fire directly at Joseph Ondoa.
It was an early warning sign, and while Egypt enjoyed the better of the early exchanges, Cameroon served a reminder of their enduring offensive quality on six minutes when a cutback found Sebastien Siani, but the central midfielder’s shot was tame and held comfortably by El Hadary.
When Egypt did take the lead, it was as much the consequence of Cameroon’s own defensive failings as their offensive class.
Amr Warda tore down the right flank and cut the ball across to Salah. The AS Roma’s forward control was exquisite, and his assist to find Elneny, an injury doubt ahead of the Final, evidenced his vision in the final third.
However, as the Arsenal midfielder approached goal, he was awarded acres of space by defender Adolphe Teikeu, who perversely drifted away from the ball and the man before sluggishly struggling to get back.
Perhaps questions too must be raised about Ondoa’s role in the goal, with the young stopper beaten at his near post—admittedly by a powerful strike—and failing to react in time to narrow the angle or block the midfielder’s effort.
The veteran El Hadary—at 44 the oldest player in Afcon history—has been one of the stars of this tournament so far, but the occasional indecision he demonstrated against Burkina Faso was again evident, notably just after the hour mark when he flapped at a shot but Christian Bassogog’s effort was fired over.
Teikeu was replaced by Nkoulou midway through the first half due to injury, with the jilted ex-captain making an intriguing return to the side after being dropped by Hugo Broos.
While his experience in the heart of the defence helped Cameroon stem Egypt’s threat and wrest back control of the contest, it was his quality in the air that ultimately made the difference at the other end of the pitch.
The centre-back leapt above a clutch of Egyptian defenders and headed past El Hadary from the centre of the box after Benjamin Moukandjo had whipped in a fine cross, with Egypt having failed to clear their lines following a corner from the captain.
The Pharaohs had been pegged back by Burkina Faso in the semi-final despite taking the lead, but ultimately progressed on penalties after holding their nerve during extra time.
On this occasion, however, there would be no reprieve.
Aboubakar, introduced as a halftime substitute for Robert Ndip Tambe, has seen his stock fall in recent seasons, but reaffirmed his class here with a delicious effort to down the Pharaohs.
The forward deftly controlled a long ball on his chest, before flicking it over Gabr and sending his effort against the ground and beyond El Hadary.
It was a strike that returned Cameroon to the pinnacle of the African game, ending a decade and a half of underachievement, and ensured that the Indomitable Lions were left roaring once again.