Mohamed Elneny broke the deadlock with a clever finish from close-range but ended up with a runners-up medal as Cameroon’s Vincent Aboubakar smashed Egyptian hearts minutes before extra time beckoned.
It was a tense affair and one which promised opportunities from the offset. Roma’s Mohamed Salah threaded a probing pass into the path of Abdalla El Said, but the winger was unable to convert his chance and goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa managed to anticipate and deal with the danger accordingly.
Cameroon’s Sebastian Siani and Christian Bassogog both spurned chances in the opening 20 minutes before Elneny’s moment of brilliance.
Elneny made good use of space in-behind a passive Cameroon backline and punished them after being teed up by Salah on the edge of the area. Curling a side-footed effort towards Ondoa’s near post, the ‘keeper had limited time to react and was unable to stop the strike flashing past him high into the opposite corner of the net. It was the first time an Arsenal player had scored in an AFCON Final
Arsenal's Mohammed Elneny puts Egypt in front in African Cup of Nations final pic.twitter.com/0OyPiKUmV4
— Arsenal FC (@FFArsenal) February 5, 2017
It was clever play from a player often criticised for his lack of attacking impetus.
Cameroon were then forced into their first change. Adolphe Teikeu sustained an injury during an aerial duel and couldn’t continue, meaning Lyon’s Nicolas N’Koulou came on as his replacement.
At the interval, the scoreline was a fair one. Cameroon enjoyed large spells of possession (63% in total) but couldn’t create many clear-cut chances with the ball whilst Egypt took theirs.
N’Koulou headed home Cameroon’s equaliser in the 58th minute after they managed to fashion a few half-chances of their own. Benjamin Moukandjo whipped a teasing delivery into the box and the centre-back towered above Ambroise Oyongo Bitolo before steering his effort into the bottom corner, leaving goalkeeper Essam El Hadary helpless.
Clearly buoyed by their equaliser, Cameroon pushed players forward in search of a winner as time ticked down. Aboubakar, on from the half-time interval, was constantly threatening Egypt’s backline. With a number of promising deliveries fizzed towards El Hadary’s area, it seemed inevitable that another goal was arriving.
Moukandjo saw an effort skew awkwardly over the crossbar as the match became more of an end-to-end encounter with Egypt looking equally dangerous from set-pieces.
It seemed fitting that a moment of individual brilliance would settle the score and Aboubakar’s inclusion proved decisive. Siani’s long pass into the Besiktas forward’s path had Egyptian defenders backpedalling. He chested the ball down before flicking it over Gabr and volleying into the bottom corner.
Commiserations are in order for Elneny and the rest of the Egyptian side, who were handed their first defeat at the tournament since 2004.
Cameroon were tipped by many before the tournament to struggle in their group. Despite a number of notable absentees, they secured their fifth Africa Cup of Nations title.