Now that the 27th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations has come to a close with Egypt taking home the trophy, the inevitable question is: “Did the best team win?” Thankfully for football purists, the answer is an emphatic yes, for a variety of reasons.
First of all, although Egypt came into this tournament having won the last two cups, their supremacy in Angola was far from certain prior to kick off. The Pharaohs were still coping with the psychological trauma of having once again missed out on their elusive third participation at the World Cup at the hands of their regional rivals, Algeria.
As if the dramatic circumstances surrounding their failure to qualify weren’t enough, the title holders also had to leave influential players such as Mohamed Aboutrika, Mohamed Barakat and Amr Zaki out of their squad due to injuries. The situation was anything but clear cut, even for the experienced Hassan Shehata.
When Obasi scored that brilliant opener in their first game against Nigeria, it looked like those who had predicted this would be a tough tournament for Egypt were in the right. However, in true champion style, the Pharaohs used the setback as an opportunity to make a statement of intent. The 3-1 scoreline in their favour at the end of that one made it clear they meant business.
That win was crucial, as it filled the squad with confidence and served as a launching pad for the rest of their successful campaign. Once group games were over, Egypt were at the top of their pool and were the only team at the tournament to have collected full points in every match during the opening stages.
The second round saw them kick into another gear, beating a determined Cameroonian side seeking revenge for what transpired in Ghana two years ago and then ousting the Fennecs who were coming off an incredible victory over title favorites Cote d’Ivoire. The win over Algeria has been questioned by many, and although the Beninese referee, Coffi Codjia, did have an impact on the proceedings, even the Algerian FA’s president, Mohamed Raouaraoua, admitted that the Pharaohs were the better team on the night and were deserving of the win.
For the final it was apt that they would have to go for history against an energetic and highly technical Ghanaian team. It was a true African football classic as it pitted a north African side against a west African one, the team with the oldest average age against the youngest one, and the championship record holders against their closest pursuers.
Although the Pharaohs didn’t put forth their best football in the encounter, and the Black Stars impressed with their ball skills and stubborn counter attacking strategy, once the final whistle sounded there was no disputing the fact that Egypt thoroughly deserved their unprecedented three-peat if one takes into consideration where things stood a month ago.
If the content of their play wasn’t enough to convince you, then perhaps the numbers will. The Egyptians had the best cof the competition, with only 2 goals conceded. They also had the best attack with 15 goals, more than double Mali’s seven who finished in second place in that category. Furthermore, the best player award went to captain Ahmed Hassan, who will be making history with each cap he earns now that he’s overtaken Hossam Hassan for most appearances of all time in a Pharaohs jersey. And finally, they also took home the golden boot through Mohamed Nagy Gedo, the breakout player who has come out of nowhere to become a star in his own right.
Such superlatives leave no doubt that the best team won on Sunday. There was no award for best coach handed out, but three successive titles don’t happen by mere coincidence, and the name Hassan Shehata will forever be engraved in gold letters in the book of Egypt’s football history.
This generation has dominated the continental scene for six years running, something that logically shouldn’t even by possible given how competitive African football has become. One can only admire and congratulate such consistent excellence and hope that the Pharaohs will be successful in transitioning into building a younger squad that will get its rightful chance to shine on the world stage four years from now at Brazil 2014.