YAOUNDE: Mohamed Abou Gabal led Egypt into the final of the African Cup of Nations after saving two penalties in a 3-1 shootout win over Cameroon in Yaounde on Thursday.
After a forgettable 120 minutes of football ended 0-0, the goalkeeper, known as Gabaski, denied Harold Moukoudi and James Lea Siliki to give the Pharaohs a date with Senegal on Sunday and a chance of continental title number eight.
With all the pre-match attention on Mohamed Salah, it was once again Egypt’s backline that stepped forward to take the plaudits as the team has now conceded two goals in six games in the tournament with all three knockout ties going into extra time.
The first half belonged to Cameroon as they asked almost all the questions of Egypt, who were happy to sit back and disrupt any rhythm and momentum the West Africans could build and hit on the counter.
Despite Cameroon’s bright start, Salah reminded the hosts of his predatory instincts after just eight minutes with a snapshot from outside the area that flew over.
The Lions came much closer after 17 minutes as Michael Ngadeu headed a corner against the junction of the bar and post, and while Vincent Aboubakar just got to the rebound first, the striker’s shot was deflected wide. The resulting corner made it all the way across the Egyptian area to the unmarked Ngadeu but the defender completely miskicked from close range. It was as close as anyone would come to scoring.
Cameroon were dominant and putting the goalkeeper under plenty of pressure but just could not find a way past, despite Gabaski seeming to carry the same groin injury that saw him subbed off in the quarter-final victory over Morocco on Sunday.
Egypt started to show more attacking intent in the final few minutes as Hamdi Fathi’s header from a right-sided free-kick was tipped over. The Pharaohs had a couple of chances to break but couldn’t quite get going. Yet it was hard to guess which team would be happier at half-time: Cameroon for being well on top or Egypt for not conceding.
The North Africans showed more urgency at the start of the second half and the game started to open up. Suddenly Salah was seeing more of the ball and almost found Trezeguet in the area.
The Liverpool man should have done better 10 minutes after the break as he latched on to an underhit Martin Hongla backpass just inside the Cameroon half. Goalkeeper Andre Onana, who had little to do in the first half, was out very quickly from his area and when Salah tried to go round him and into an empty area, stuck out a boot and stopped the danger.
Soon after Cameroon had a free kick just to the left of the box that was whipped into the near post by Moumi Ngamaleu. It was headed on by Karl Toko Ekambi but goalkeeper Gabaski got down well at his near post to make the save. Seconds later he was flying across the area to try and get to a long-range zinger from Samuel Oum Gouet that hit the outside of the post.
As full-time drew nearer, the action slowed down and it was clear that both teams were nervous of what would likely be a decisive mistake. The main excitement was centered on coach Carlos Queiroz who was shown two yellows in the space of three minutes for shouting and gesturing from the sidelines.
It was no surprise given that the former Real Madrid manager had been complaining from the start and it was also no surprise that the game went into extra time.
There was little action of note in the first period with Salah having the best chance, though it was only a half one, after ten minutes, curling the ball just wide of the post from the edge of the area. Shortly after Mostafa Mohamed should have shot from the right side of the area but instead squared to Trezeguet and the danger was cleared. A similar move from Cameroon saw Gabaski spill a cross from the left but the defender was there to clear.
The tension and tiredness was palpable and only increased as penalties drew near, but Egypt had their best chance to win the game in the final seconds. Ramadan Sobhi burst free down the right side of the area and had four white shirts in the six-yard box to choose from but blasted the ball far too hard and nobody could get the necessary touch.
It was clear that Egypt, who have won their last five shootouts, were more confident heading into penalties but Gabaski’s saves were enough for the seven-time champions to celebrate once more.