A football supporter's guide to CAN 2017: Day 12
1- After the fall, walk on.
The mirth of a nation was well and truly dashed on day nine when Gabon drew 0-0 with Cameroon to leave the Cup of Nations at the first stage. They were only the fourth host country to falter in such a way. Their poster boy uberhope, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a sitter at the start of the third group stage game. And all that can be wondered is: what if?
As if to pluck us away from such reveries, the Borussia Dortmund president, Hans-Joachim Watzke, says Auba – for that is what he called on the park in Germany – will be back in Dortmund on 26 January and available for the trip to Mainz on 29 January. “He’ll be fit and ready and he will be an option for the coach,” Watzke said. Dortmund are fourth in the Bundesliga following last weekend’s victory at Werder Bremen.
They’re 12 points behind the leaders Bayern Munich at the midway point of the season. Aubameyang was top scorer in the division with 15 goals before he left. No one has passed his mark in his absence. Probably best not to mention that he wasn’t away for that long.
2- What game you watching ref?
Referee Bakary Papa Gassama came in for some stick from the crowd in the Egypt v Ghana match. He was very lenient with a couple of cute fouls committed by Mahmoud Hassan towards the end of the game who seemed to operating in the same impunity zone that the Zimbabwe defender Costa Nhamoinesu inhabited during the match on day 10 against Tunisia.
There were a couple of decisions involving other Egypt players that also irked the Ghana camp on the sidelines. That and a sand dune of a pitch did not make it a happy night for the Black Stars who lost their skipper Asamoah Gyan to an adductor injury.
3- So, farewell then Port-Gentil.
The runners-up in the group have to leave Port-Gentil to play their quarter-final in Oyem, Gabon’s fourth city which lies just over 400km north of the capital Libreville. The stadium is magnificent there.
And the pitch will have been well watered. The day 12 match between Mali and Uganda was played in a tropical downpour. Oyem is the heartland of the Fang people. I was particularly struck by a story from just over a decade ago when parts of the city were besieged by rabid dogs. Around 50 of them had to be shot. Interesting tale.
4- So, farewell then Uganda.
Uganda –nicknamed the Cranes – are flying home after their first Cup of Nations campaign for 39 years. They were eliminated following their 1-0 loss to Egypt on day eight. But Uganda depart Gabon with their heads held high. They drew 1-1 with Mali – who also leave the tournament. Before the game, the Uganda coach Milutin Sredojevic said his players would do their utmost to win the game.
Farouk Miya struck Uganda’s goal in the 70th minute and Yves Bissouma levelled for Mali less than five minutes later. Ultimately, the 2017 Cup of Nations has been a disappointing campaign for Mali.
They were by far the better team in their opening game against Egypt and should have wiped the floor with them. But they failed to take their chances. Now the Pharoahs – for that is the Egypt team’s nickname – are in the ascendance and on the hunt for an eighth continental trophy.
5- All hail the king of the Pharoahs.
Glory, laud and honour or just plain big up respect for Essam El Hadary. He came to Gabon as Egypt’s third choice goalkeeper but following injuries to the top two, El Hadary is the main man between the sticks as Egypt surge into the knockout stages. He is also breaking his own record as the oldest player to feature i an Africa Cup of Nations fixture.
When he came on as a substitute during the Mali game on 17 January, he was 44 years and two days. It finished 0-0. He has added another eight days to his record via the ties against Uganda and Ghana. Barring injury, he will extend his mark to 44 years and 14 days when Egypt play Morocco in the quarter-finals in Port-Gentil. It’s also worth noting that Egypt’s rearguard has not been breached in their three games in the group stages.
El Hadary has won the Cup of Nations four times - 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010. Now that Egypt are into the last eight, it’s down to luck and experience. El Hadary, who’ll collect his 150th cap in the match against Morocco, has plenty of the latter. As for the former? That’s in the hands of the gods.
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