Ramadan Tales E9: Egypt oust giants to win 2006 AFCON on home soil
In Part 9 of our KingFut Ramadan Tales series, we re-live the 2006 African Cup of Nations, hosted on home soil for the Egyptian National team. The tournament marked an important part of Egyptian footballing history, beginning an incredible streak of three straight tournament wins, something which had never been achieved, and is unlikely to be usurped any time soon.
The expectation heading into the tournament was immense for the National side. Led by now legendary manager Hassan Shehata, the Egyptian side boasted a potent mix of European based talent and locally based talent. Looking to overcome the disappointment of the 2004 African Cup campaign, where Egypt were knocked out in the group stage following lacklustre performances against fellow North Africans Algeria and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. The tournament kicked off on the 20th of January, 2006, at the Cairo International Stadium in front of a sellout crowd. Egypt faced Libya in the opener, a crucial match in the context of the group, with Egypt needing a strong result after being drawn in an extremely difficult group with Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco clashes still to come.
The opening match did not disappoint, with the Egyptians absolutely dominating proceedings to record a 3-0 win to head to the top of the group. The first goal of the tournament came in the 18th minute from the head of former Ajax and Tottenham striker Mido. A long ball into the box from defence was cleared out of play by a Libyan leading to a corner. The late Mohamed Abdel-Wahab stepped up to take the set piece, delivering a sumptuous curving ball to the far post, where an unmarked Mido was on hand to dispatch a solid header into the net, much to the delight of the home crowd. Four minutes later and Egypt had their second, arguably their best goal of the tournament. A flicked header found Amr Zaki in space, who was subsequently brought down by a defender. The foul, which should have seen a red card produced, resulted in a free kick roughly 26 yards out from the Libyan goal. Mido, Ahmed Hassan and Mohamed Aboutrika stood over the free kick, with Mido making an intelligent decoy run once the whistle was blown for the free kick to be taken. Up stepped the playmaker to send a brilliant side footed curler over the wall and into the top right corner of the net, leaving the Libyan keeper rooted to his spot.
The first half ended 2-0, with Egypt scoring the sealer in the second half in controversial circumstances. Another long ball floated into the defence in the 76th minute was comically defended by the Libyan defence, with Amr Zaki running onto the ball and heading past the oncoming keeper. The Libyan keeper, Luis Ogastin, dragged down the Egyptian striker, forcing a penalty and earning a straight second yellow card in the process, leaving the pitch in tears. Mido stepped up to take the penalty, which was saved by the substitute keeper, with Ahmed Hassan following up swiftly to blast home the rebound.
The next match pitted Egypt against the Atlas Lions of Morocco. Whilst the Pharaohs had gained the three points in their first clash of the tournament, Morocco had failed to do the same following a 1-0 loss to Cote d’Ivoire. A must win for the North African giants, but also an important tie for Egypt, who hoped to finish top of the group to avoid playing the winner of Group B in the quarter finals, with Cameroon looking the likely opponents from the second group. In a drab affair which lacked a finish from both sides, the match ended 0-0, potentially securing Egypt’s place in the next round, with Morocco having to hope for an Egypt loss in the last match, whilst overcoming a three-goal goal difference in order to reach the last eight. The match was not without it’s chances, with Egypt having some great sights on goal but not being able to convert. The best chance of the game came early on after a fantastic ball into the box from a free kick by Ahmed Hassan found an unmarked Amr Zaki 8 yards out. The striker completely missed the header though, much to the anguish of the crowd. The Moroccans also had chances to score, with Egyptian keeper Essam El-Hadary pulling off a brilliant second half save off of a Moustafa Hadji header on goal, keeping the scores level at 0-0.
The final match of the Group Stage saw Egypt face Cote d’Ivoire, again in front of a sellout crowd at the Cairo International Stadium. The match would prove to be pivotal in the context of the competition, with the winner finishing in top spot in Group A, avoiding a tie against Cameroon who won Group B in the next round. The match started off in frantic fashion, with Egypt having a chance to go ahead crucially early on. A free kick whipped into the box from near the left corner flag wasn’t dealt with by the Ivorian keeper, but Emad Meteb was unable to steer a shot on target. The resulting clearance fell to Ahmed Hassan, who struck the ball tamely into the hands of the keeper from the edge of the area. It didn’t take much longer for the Egyptian pressure to reap the rewards though, and in the eighth minute Egypt had the all important opening goal. A short corner was whipped to the far post where Abdel-Zaher El Saqqa pounced to head a shot on goal. The resulting header beat the keeper and bounced off the turf, where it found Meteb, who was rushing in at the other post to head home. One-nil with only eight minutes played, the crowd was buzzing. In the 42nd minute Egypt were pegged back following a deflected effort by Arouna Kone. The Ivorian, who found himself in space on the edge of the box, swivelled and shot on goal. Ibrahim Said got a long to it, but the deflection took the ball over El Hadary and into the top left hand corner of the net, making it 1-1 at the half time break.
Egypt had the momentum though, and in the 61st minute they converted it into another goal of the tournament contender. Mohamed Abdel Wahab, who had made a driving run in field from the left wing, played a pass to Egypt legend Hossam Hassan on the edge of the box. The striker dinked a deft first time chip over the Ivorian defence which found Mohamed Aboutrika inside the box. The former Al Ahly player then hit a first time volley into the bottom right corner of the net past the outstretched hand of subsitute keeper Boubacar Barry to send the crowd wild. Egypt then sealed the game eight minutes later following another awe inspiring team move. A slick set of passes developed from the back line took form down the right wing between Ahmed Hassan and Abdelzaher El-Saqqa. Hassan, who received the ball in space whipped a ball around the retreating Ivorian defence which was met by Metab on the edge of the box. Metal then lobbed the keeper, who got a hand on it to tip it onto the cross bar. Hossam Hassan, who was on the rebound and should have buried the header into a free net, miscued his shot, which fell to Meteb on the follow up to bury home the 3rd goal. 3-1 it stayed, with Egypt securing top spot in the group, setting up a clash in the quarter finals against DR. Congo, who finished second in Group B.
The quarter final would arguably be Egypt’s easiest game of the campaign against minnows DR. Congo. The central African side suprisingly qualified on goal difference from Group B, where they faced fellow quarter finalists Cameroon as well as 2006 FIFA World Cup representatives Togo and Angola. Egypt, eager to further boost their momentum in the competition, started strongly, with Mohamed Barakat, Amr Zaki and Hossam all respectively going close to opening the scoring in the first 20 minutes of the tie. Egypt soon had the opener, which came in the 33rd minute courtesy of a penalty taken by Egyptian legend Ahmed Hassan after Amr Zaki was fouled in the box following some swift work down the left wing. Hassan converted the penalty with a controlled shot into the bottom left hand corner of the net to give the hosts the advantage, and it wasn’t long before it was doubled, with another legend getting in on the act. In the 39th minute Hossam Hassan controlled a pin point lofted pass from midfield on his chest to go one on one with the keeper. Hassan, who was playing in his final international tournament for Egypt, rolled back the years and rifled a shot into the roof of the net, leaving the keeper with no chance. DR Congo were out to prove a point though, and managed to claw one back in stoppage time at the end of the first half. A corner into the box wasn’t dealt with by the Egyptian defence, and a shot on goal was deflected into the net by Abdelzaher El-Saqqa. Two-one it ended at half time, with Egypt in poll position for a position in the semi finals.
Egypt, eager to double their slender advantage, came out firing in the second half. In the 55th minute Meteb missed a golden opportunity to do so, unable to steer a rebound into the back of the net following an acrobatic save by the Congolese keeper off of a Tarek El-Sayed pile-driver. The miss didn’t prove to be costly though, as less than two minutes later Egypt had the goal they had been craving. Amir Zaki pounced on some a slack clearance to compound pressure on the Congo defence. A scuffle in the box led to the ball being played to Meteb, who was free on the follow up, to steer home and make it 3-1. There were claims of handball by Zaki from the Congolese defence in the lead up to the goal, but replays were inconclusive. In the 88th minute Egypt sealed their place in the semi finals, with Ahmed Hassan grabbing his second goal of the game in comical fashion. A foul on Mohamed Abdel Wahab gave Egypt a free kick on the left wing, with nobody expecting a direct goal from it’s position. Hassan whipped what looked to be a cross into the box, with no players from either side making contact with the ball. The ball went into the bottom right corner of the net, much to the disbelief of the Congolese keeper, who stood and watched as it dribbled past him; 4-1 at the close of play, Egypt into the semi finals.
The matches wouldn’t get any easier though with Egypt drawn against Senegal, who had beaten Guinea previously, in the quarter-finals. The history of the two sides brought an added aura to the match, with Senegal having beaten Egypt to the African qualifying spot for the 2002 FIFA World Cup on 5 years earlier. Chances were few and far between early on, with Egypt looking to apply pressure whilst Senegal were happy to sit back and attack on the counter. The game was brought to life in the 33 minute, when Egypt was awarded a penalty after a handball in the box. The penalty incident was controversial to say the least, with Ahmed Hassan seemingly putting his side 1-0 up, beating the keeper with a shot into the left of the net. The referee was not happy with the penalty though, calling the ball back to the spot for a retake following an infringement by players from both sides on the penalty area before the kick was taken. Hassan cooly slotted home the retake, going the opposite way, leaving the keeper at a standstill. Controversy in the first half, but even more to come in the second, with Egypt taking the 1-0 lead going into the break.
With a berth in the final on the line, Senegal came out all guns blazing and were rewarded for their efforts seven minutes into the second half. A curling cross into the box from the right wing found a gap between Egypt’s two centre backs, with former Marseille and Fenerbache strike Mamadou Niang on hand to direct a header past the outstretched hand of El Hadary and into the bottom right corner of the net. With both teams pushing for the crucial winner, controversy reigned again in the 78th minute, this time from Egypt’s side. Mido, who had underperformed at the tournament to this point, was called off to be substituted for Amr Zaki. The former Ajax and Tottenham man was not happy with the decision, starting a touchline row with Hassan Shehata in full view of the sell out crowd, and TV crews beaming the match all around the world. With complete lack of respect for his manager, Mido would play no further part in the tournament. Three minutes after the touchline incident Shehata’s decision turned out to be pivotal, with Mido’s replacement, former Wigan striker Amr Zaki, scoring the winner. A half volleyed cross into the box from the left wing by Aboutrika was met by ‘The Bulldozer’, who rose highest above the Senegal defence to head home, sending the crowd into delirium. Egypt were lucky to hold on for the win though, with more controversy coming in the 89th minute, with Senegal denied a blatant penalty after a foul in the box by Ibrahim Said on Camara. Two-one, and Egypt were into the final to play Cote d’Ivoire, who they had beaten in the group stages.
The 10th of February 2006 saw the final played in front of yet another sellout crowd at the Cairo International Stadium. Cote d’Ivoire, who had lost to Egypt in the group stages, were looking to seal only their second tournament victory at the time, with Egypt holding the home ground advantage on their quest to win a record fifth African Cup crown. The match started off tentatively for both sides, with the tempo of the game subdued, with both teams more content with waiting for the other to make a mistake rather than trying to force the mistake. The best chance of the first 90 minutes fell to Chelsea and Cote d’Ivoire legend Didier Drogba in the 76th minute, who inexplicably missed an open net from six yards out following a pull back into the area from Arouna Kone. With how the game panned out, the goal, had Drogba converted the opportunity, may have proved to be the winner. There was controversy late on, with Egypt seemingly snatching the win in the 83rd minute after Amr Zaki put the ball into the back of the net off of a spilled save by the Ivorian keeper. The goal however, was ruled out due to an apparent infringement on the goalkeeper, much to the bemusement of the crowd and the Egyptian players and coaching staff. Nil-nil it remained after 90 minutes, with the match headed to extra time.
Four minutes into extra time, Egypt had a golden chance to take the lead after a penalty was given to the hosts following a foul on Mohamed Barakat, who was hit by a high foot by an Ivorian defender after he controlled a cross at the back post. Ahmed Hassan, who had assumed penalty taking duties following Mido’s miss from 12 yards in the opening match of the tournament, stepped up to take the shot but missed, hitting the left post after trying to place the ball into the bottom left corner of the net. Three minutes later, Cote d’Ivoire had a chance to grab the opener, with Bakary Kone’s blinding effort on goal tipped over the crossbar acrobatically by El Hadary. The stalemate lasted through extra time, with the score staying at 0-0 at the conclusion of extra time, the match headed for penalties.
Ahmed Hassan stepped up first for the hosts, sending the keeper the wrong way with a shot into the left corner of the net. Didier Drogba then stepped up for Cote d’Ivoire, with El Hadary pulling off a magnificent save, pushing out Drogba’s shot which was destined for the bottom left corner of the net, but for the keeper. Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Kolo Toure both converted their respective side’s next penalties, before the Elephants were handed a lifeline, with former Zamalek star Abdelhalim Ali missing Egypt’s third penalty. The chance went begging though, with El Hadary in top form to make another save in the shootout, denying Bakary Kone the equaliser. Amr Zaki then stepped up and converted his penalty, with Emmanuel Eboue scoring Ivory Coast’s next shot to keep them still in the match. The final spot kick for Egypt fell to Mohamed Aboutrika, who sent Ivorian keeper Jean-Jacques Tizie the wrong way, scoring into the bottom left hand corner of the net to seal the title and send the country into raptures. Four-two on penalties, Egypt had done it, a record fifth African Cup of Nations title made even sweeter by winning it on home soil. The win sparked an amazing tournament run, with Egypt also comfortably taking out the 2008 and 2010 editions of the continental competition, without losing a single match, a feat which is unlikely to ever be bested!
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