A Ramadan Sobhi strike in the 114th minuted sealed Egypt’s 2-1 win over Ivory Coast in the U23 Africa Cup of Nations final at the Cairo International Stadium on Friday night.
The young Pharaohs came into the final on the back of a resounding 3-0 win over South Africa in the semi-final, and were favourites to win the title in front of an expectant crowd.
Ivory Coast, on the other hand, weren’t as convincing as the North Africans throughout the competition, mostly securing hard-fought wins en route the final.
It took a 3-2 win on penalties against Ghana to book their place in Friday night’s final, after they played out a 2-2 draw following 120 minutes of football.
The hosts began the brighter of the two sides in the final, but couldn’t breach a resolute defence and had to stay patient.
Their patience finally paid off with half-time approaching as El Eraky broke the deadlock eight minutes before the interval, connecting to a Ramadan Sobhi cross.
It was just what the doctor ordered for Shawky Gharib’s side, and they led 1-0 at the half-time break.
Ivory Coast raised their game after half-time and pinned the favourites back for most of the half.
With the Elephants in the ascendancy, changes were made with Kouadio Dabila and Aboubacar Junior Doumbia replacing Cheick Timite and Jean Thierry Lazare in minutes 54 and 68, respectively.
It took 20 minutes, but Doumbia rewarded his manager’s faith by scoring the equaliser in the 88th minute, just when the host nation were on the cusp of celebrating a historic win.
The Ivorians forced an extra 30 minutes and it was no less than they deserved.
The West Africans limited the hosts to just one shot in the second half, while having an extra five in addition to the two efforts they had in the opening 45 minutes.
Both sides went for it in extra-time, but neither seemed like getting the breakthrough as penalties beckoned.
However, Sobhi had other ideas as he scored in the 114th minute of the final to seal Egypt’s first-ever U23 Afcon success.
Shawky Gharib won all their games in the competition, scoring 11 goals and conceding just four.
Both sides qualify for the 2022 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo, Japan, alongside South Africa who defeated Ghana in the third-place playoff.