Benguela — Egypt marched on again like a giant machine towards further Africa Nations Cup landmarks, beating Cameroon 3-1 after extra time in their quarterfinal at Benguela’s Ombaka Stadium on Monday.
Captain Ahmed Hassan proved the central figure on the day, setting a new record for the most number of appearances by an African international.
At the end of the game, he was hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates as the Egyptians celebrated what they admitted afterwards had been their toughest encounter in Angola to date.
The Pharaohs are still on course for an unprecedented third successive title and continue to set a record for an unbeaten run at the finals, now standing at 17 games.
But it had all threatened to go wrong for the 34-year-old midfield dynamo, who scored an own goal in the 26th minute to hand Cameroon an early lead. Hassan’s diminutive frame was not big enough to deal with an in-swinging corner from Achille Emana and he flicked it into his own net in a horror start on his big day.
Eleven minutes later, however, Hassan atoned for the own goal, dipping a swerving free kick dangerously in front of Cameroon’s Carlos Idriss Kameni, catching the goalkeeper unaware and bouncing the ball into the net from all of 35 metres out.
The incident will serve to heighten the controversy over the new ball used at the tournament, which has been widely criticised by all the players.
Much more controversy was to come later as the two sides headed into extra time after a 90 minutes stalemate.
Straight away, substitute Mohamed Nagui pounced like a thief onto a wayward back pass from defender Geremi and tucked away the ball to give Egypt the lead for the first time.
The goal was followed three minutes later by a Hassan free kick that again caught Kameni, who managed to get a hand to it and onto the woodwork. As the ball bounced out, the referee signaled a goal, but television replays proved it had not crossed the line, a pivotal moment in the game and further fuel for the debate over the introduction of video technology.
Cameroon captain Samuel Eto’o refused to blame the match officials afterwards, perhaps cognisant of his own country’s good fortune in 2000 when they won against Nigeria in the final in Lagos, courtesy of a similar decision that went in their favour.
To add insult to injury, Cameron also had defender Aurelien Chedjou sent off for a professional foul, meaning he will miss the first game of the World Cup finals in South Africa later this year if he is picked.
Coach Paul LeGuen said he would have to reflect on the choice of players for the tournament after the bitter disappointment of quarterfinal elimination.
Egypt can look ahead to another potentially bruising game with Algeria, the side they lost to in a drama-filled World Cup qualifying play-off in November.