Cameroon 0-0 Egypt (Egypt win 3-1 on penalties)
OLEMBE STADIUM — Rephrase the old saying. Twenty-two players chasing a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, Germany always win? Make them play Egypt for 120 plus penalties and see if they can hack it. The Pharaohs persevere again. Don’t rule out the same happening on Sunday.
Their five designated penalty takers were booed and whistled throughout their penalties, as they traipsed from halfway and as they jogged the three or four steps towards the ball. Think they’re afraid? You haven’t watched Egypt before. You haven’t seen their steel.
You also haven’t seen how much a penalty shootout can force a host nation to tense up and cramp with fear. Three of Cameroon’s four penalties were hopeless, two telegraphed into one corner and the other chipped over the bar as if to at least end the nervous agony.
Egypt do not care about being neutrals’ favourites, which is just as well. They are a gritty, resilient, defensive team who are difficult to love and impossible to like watching unless they happen to be your team. They aim to suffocate their opponents, inviting pressure which through increasingly intricate methods they ensure never becomes a crisis, before hitting them on the break. If it happened once or twice, you might cry outrageous good fortune. But they have been doing it for years.
Under Carlos Queiroz, Egypt have found a new gear of shithousery, or are at least comfortable to coast in fifth. In the first 45 minutes of this semi-final, Egypt players went down to the turf in agony on seven different occasions. Only one of them apparently required serious treatment.
On the touchline, Queiroz fell to his knees and held his arms aloft at the award of a simple free-kick in midfield with all the over-acting of a self-important amateur dramatist. He eventually completely lost control, receiving two yellow cards in four minutes and then having to be held back while trying to attack the fourth official as he was dragged away. He will miss the final and, on this evidence, it will be better for it.
In other games, this strategy worked. So it’s to the great credit of referee Bakary Gassama that he kept a hold on the histrionics. Two days before the game, the Egyptian Football Association made an official complaint about the selection of Gassama. Their main issue appeared to be that Gassama doesn’t take any nonsense, for which we owe him a thousand thanks.
Mohamed Salah insists that this is the one trophy he wants to win most, but it must test his powers of patience at times. He had 12 touches and completed just four passes in the first half; at times he was so isolated that he may as well have been back on Merseyside. Behind him, midfielders struggled to retain possession and defenders passed on an “anywhere will do” policy.
Cameroon wasted their chances, beyond even Egypt’s control. Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui hit a post and then got his legs tied together from the resulting corner. Karl Toko Ekambi missed a chance from close range and then from 30 yards out. Gabaski spilled a cross but it somehow evaded any player on the green. And still they were in it, until the point where victory – via whatever method they needed – felt inevitable.
Each of Egypt’s three knockout ties have now gone to extra-time. Of course they have; this is exactly what Egypt wants. They have won their last six penalty shootouts. When games are tight and tense, separated by small margins and mistakes, it is they who repeatedly step up.