Thursday, February 7, 2008

ACN Final Four: Clashes Of The Titans

Today 9 a.m. PST


Today 12:30 p.m. PST

Ivory Coast-Egypt

Three of the 4 biggest powerhouses of African football {Nigeria, being the fourth, were eliminated in the quarterfinal} plus the defending champion Egypt, makes for an awesome final 4 in the 2008 African Cup Of Nations.

For a rundown of the quarterfinal results, including Nigeria's underwhelming choke job of coming from a goal up and a man up to lose, click here.

Ghana are the hosts which makes them favorites to get through to the final, but Cameroon are no joke and Samuel Eto'o has already surpassed the ACN all time scoring record {16 goals} in this tournament {note he is only 26 so he should shatter this record by leaps and bounds by the time he retires}.

This should be an epic battle.

The second semifinal features not only two teams who have won every match thusfar in the tournament, but also a rematch of the ACN2006 final, won by Egypt 4-2 on penalties after the teams played to a 0-0 draw. The Pharaohs are no joke and have defended their title well, but Ivory Coast are by far the strongest and best team in the tournament and one of the very best African teams of all time, and there are not many people outside of Egypt who think that the Elephants can be beat {expectation for this one is on the level of the Super Bowl last weekend}. Ivory Coast have destroyed everyone in front of them this year and people are already talking about this being the team that can get Africa it's 1st ever World Cup semifinal in 2010.

I bought the final stage pass from AllSoccerAfrica for $14.99 {all knockout round matches} and I hope to watch much of both matches today.

One last note- my favorite team at this year's African Cup Of Nations is easily and without question Mali, who in beating Togo 2-0 in their final qualification match back in October knocked Togo out of the competition and ensured that Emmanuel Adebayor would stay with Arsenal through January & February, where he has scored 11 goals in his last 8 matches in helping Arsenal to the top of the table. I love you, Mali.


Ghana 0-0 Cameroon. Half Time.

Good game. Cameroon just missed a screamer form outside the box, and later Geremi hit the junction of the post & crossbar with an swerving screamer of a free kick from a good 35 yards out. Ghana has a good chance from the edge of the box but dude shot it kind of right at the keeper.


Ghana 0-1 Cameroon

Totally against the run of play, and a thing of beauty. Ghana were dominating possession and chances, and in minute 68 Cameroon's Geremi cleared a shot off the line with his head. Two minutes later Cameroon caught Ghana on the break, Nkong-Eto'o-Nkong, beautifully slotted goal. Accra Stadium is stunned and silent.

Ghana hit the pause button, go into the game menu, and change their team strategy to "All Out Attack" for the final 20 minutes.

Black Stars 0-1 Indomitable Lions. Final.

Cameroon did it. They weathered the storm, and the last 5 minutes with 10 men after a bizarre but merited sending off, to upset the hosts and advance to their 5th ACN final. Amazingly, the Indomitable Lions have won the ACN 4 times previously, and each time they defeated the host nation in the knockout round along the way, which is damn impressive, and now they have done it again.

They await the winner of Ivory Coast-Egypt in the final, which 99% of people think will be Ivory Coast.


Ivory Coast 0-1 Egypt. 12'

Ivory Coast are dominant early, but after an Egypt corner a shot from the edge of the box deflects off of not one but 2 defenders and into the corner. A bit of a lucky, fluky, pinball goal, but they all look the same on the scoreboard. This makes things interesting to say the least...

Elephants 0-1 Pharaohs. Half Time.

Once more Ivory Coast have had the better of it, but unable to put the ball in the back of the net. Drogba managed to shoot right at the keeper from 4 yards out, when scoring would have been easier than not scoring. Later he had a bullet header from a corner kick well saved by the Egyptian keeper, but again it was right at him. It was so hard that had it been anywhere else on goal it would have been in.

Worse for the Ivory Coast is that their keeper, Barry, was injured and had to be substituted. A double whammy, because 1) he is generally regarded as the best keeper in the whole tournament and has conceded only 1 goal through 4 matches {well, 2 now, but it was not his fault}, and 2) now Ivory Coast only have 2 tactical substitutions left rather than the standard three.

So it is very much on for the second half. This isn't quite Georgetown-Princeton, hell Egypt are the defending champions, but if they were to hold out it would easily be the biggest shock & upset of the whole tournament. They apparently are the masters of "closing up shop", but still have another 45+ minutes against Drogba, Kalou, Keita, Zokora, Y Toure, Eboue, K Toure, and the rest- a formidable task. That being said, they are not scared, and are playing with the confidence of a team that knows it can win because they beat Ivory Coast in the 2006 final by holding them scoreless for 120 minutes and then winning on penalties. Ivory Coast on the other hand are growing visibly frustrated as the game creeps on and they still find themselves behind even tough they are by far a better team and have made more chances.

It all sets up for a super interesting final 45 minutes...

Holy Shit.

Ivory Coast 0-2 Egypt. 62nd minute.

After total and complete domination by Ivory Coast, and 2 more great chances shot right at the Egyptian keeper, Egypt scores against the run of play on a header from a corner kick off the underside of the crossbar.

Ivory Coast are really up against it now...

Game On!

Ivory Coast 1-2 Egypt. 63rd minute.

Less than 1 minute later, Keita scores on an absolute missile/rocket shot from outside the box that is unsaveable and rips into the side netting. This is turning into a great, great match.

Ivory Coast 1-3 Egypt. 67th minute.

With Ivory Coast going forward in waves of almost desperation, Egypt score against the run of play yet again. A long ball from the goalkeeper, a flick on, a great ball fake, and then a shot from the edge of the box into the far low corner.

Ivory Coast are really up against it now. 23 minutes to save themselves...

More chances from Ivory Coast, 3 really good chances, but again all right at the keeper.

Ivory Coast 1-4 Egypt. 92nd minute.

Ivory Coast wide open at the back as they came forward in waves of desperation, and Egypt finishes it off with a nice 2 on 1 and damn near tap in. Game, Set, Match.

A stunning result.

Elephants 1-4 Pharaohs. Full Time.

A pretty stunning result, an not at all an indication of how close the match was. Bottom line: Egypt took almost all of their chances, and Ivory Coast squandered theirs. Biggest culprit was Didier Drogba, who had no less than 2 free headers as well as a free shot inside the 6 yard box, as well as a bullet free header from a corner from about 9 yards out, and all 4 were right at the keeper. A striker of his quality, arguably the best player in the tournament {Eto'o, Essien, Kanoute, etc.} should have done better.

Egypt are extremely reminiscent of Greece from Euro 2004: extremely well organized, difficult to break down, and when they get their chances, they take them. And in Mohammed Zidan they have an exciting player- like many before him, including C Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, he has matured from being all tricks and flicks all the time and is a more complete player and much more dangerous. He is an exciting flair player who excites every time he touches the ball, and I guess it doesn't hurt him that his name is so close to a legend {Zizou} and that he looks damn near another legend {Ronaldo}.

Everyone was expecting a Ghana-Ivory Coast final, or perhaps a Cameroon-Ivory Coast final, but instead it is Cameroon-Egypt who will play for the title in Accra on Sunday. Four time champions Cameroon in their sixth final and trying to win for the 5th time, against 5 time champion {most ever} Egypt trying to defend their 2006 title.

Not the glamor match that everyone wanted, but still should be quite good. It will be a replay of their opening group stage match, where Egypt beat down Cameroon 4-2 behind 2 really great goals from the aforementioned Mohammed Zidan, who kind of announced himself to the world stage for those who hadn't already seen his tricks & flicks compilation vids on youtube. BTW, that match also reminds me of Euro 2004, where Greece upset Portugal in the opening match of the tournament, and then replicated their upset in the final.

Me, I'm rocking my FCB Eto'o jersey tomorrow on casual Friday and pulling hard for the Indomitable Lions.

Final, Sunday at I believe 9 a.m. PST


You can watch it streaming live on your computer at AllSoccerAfrica for $5.99 with either English or French commentary, and I have to say that the streams are very good. I purchased the final round knockout stage pass, and with that I can also view highlights from every game in the tournament, as well as any of the games in its entirety 'on demand'- I would hope that even if you do the $5.99 pass that you could see all of the highlights at least, as there were some absolutely fantastic goals in this exciting tournament.

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