Johnson makes another strong start in Saudi; Manassero leads

5 things learned from Egypt’s penalty shootout win over Cameroon in semifinals of Africa Cup of Nations

RIYADH: Egypt on Thursday defeated Cameroon in a penalty shootout in the semifinal of the Africa Cup of Nations after two hours of football ended 0-0. The Pharaohs will go on to meet Senegal in Sunday’s final but before that, here are five things that Arab News learned.

1. Egypt’s game plan worked perfectly

You have to hand it to Egypt. They had gone to extra time twice in the knockout stages already and were facing the tournament’s top scorers but ended up victorious.

The plan was to take the sting out of Cameroon, stop them playing and, if possible, try and grab a goal. That all worked apart from scoring but that was fine as they were more than happy to go to penalties.

Cameroon had the better of the first half but as the game progressed, they created fewer chances and looked increasingly tired.

It is debatable as to whether Egypt wanted penalties right from the start of the game, but they played as if a shootout would always be welcome. It certainly seemed as if the north Africans were more confident and happier than the hosts when it came to the spot-kick showdown and that was amply demonstrated in the way it all went.

Egypt stood tall while Cameroon just, well, crumbled, and as soon as Mohamed Abou Gabal, or Gabaski, made the first save, from body language alone, it was obvious who was going to win.

2. Aboubakar’s Salah comments backfired

Cameroon striker Vincent Aboubakar’s comments on Mohamed Salah before the game added an extra dimension to what was already a big match and perhaps there was some frostiness when the two skippers tossed coins.

“He doesn’t impress me much,” Aboubaker reportedly said about the Liverpool star. “I say it clearly because I’m an honest person and I have my way of seeing things. If he impressed me, I would say so. But he doesn’t impress me much. He’s a good player, he scores a lot, but he doesn’t produce a lot of stuff in the game.”

It may be that the comments were taken slightly out of context, or it may be that the Al-Nassr man was tired of being asked about Salah in the build-up, but it was tempting fate to say such things about one of the best players in the world before such a huge game.

In the end, Salah did not score the winning goal, but it was Aboubakar, the tournament’s top scorer, who was fairly anonymous for much of the match.

3. Seven-time champions will not care that they are not an easy watch

If Egypt do go on and lift the trophy, it will not be celebrated much around Africa and the watching world.

Egypt are hard to play against. On numerous occasions, the players go down to break things up and slow things down.

They are also a hard watch. While there was drama, tension, and intrigue at various points, the Pharaohs do not serve up much excitement and that has been the same throughout the tournament as they have scored just four goals in more than 600 minutes of football.

There has been criticism back home about the team’s style of play under coach Carlos Queiroz but ultimately any complaints will be drowned out by celebrations if Egypt win. It all depends on results.

4. Gabaski is a real hero

It has been a strange tournament for Egyptian goalkeepers. Mohamed El-Shenawy was the best No. 1 in the group stage but went off injured in the second-round win over Ivory Coast. It was striking at how reluctant the coaching staff were to take the Al-Ahly man off.

In came Gabaski and he performed heroics. Yet in the quarterfinal win, the No. 2 had to go off injured and third-choice goalkeeper Mohammed Sobhy was handed the gloves.

Gabaski returned against Cameroon but did not look completely fit and there were times when Sobhy was seen warming up.

Yet the Zamalek man stayed on the pitch and made a number of important saves throughout the game.

Obviously, most of the attention will go on the shootout saves as the 33-year-old won it for his team. The first was a regulation save from a poor kick but the second was a top-class effort. Both together ensured that Egypt were going through.

Before it all started, nobody expected that Egypt’s hero would be the second-choice goalie who had barely played for his country, but Gabaski stepped in to do a fantastic job.

5. Carlos Queiroz is up to his old tricks

There have been quite a few red cards in the tournament, but none have been more predictable than the one shown to Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz late in the game.

Egypt had been complaining about the referee ever since Bakary Gassama had been appointed to take control with the federation making an official protest, saying that the experienced Gambian had shown bias against Egyptian teams in the past.

As coach of Iran for seven years, the well-travelled boss was adept at creating conflict with the federation, club bosses, and opponents ahead and during big games in order to get what he wanted.

Against Cameroon, he was constantly moaning on the sidelines about the decisions and slights, perceived or otherwise, performed on his players from the Cameroonians and he had to be dragged away when shown the second of his yellow cards.

It is debatable as to whether such antics help or hinder as trying to “work” the referee can work both ways. It does ensure that the crowd turns hostile and perhaps that is the whole point. Queiroz is creating a siege mentality with his team and that is why he will welcome the tag of underdog in Sunday’s final.