Sometimes an outcome feels certain and, on this occasion, an Egypt win on penalties fitted that bracket. They are a tough watch and, against a Cameroon side that was lively but blunt, seemed content to grind through two hours’ play in order for a shot at what they do so expertly.
Cameroon 0-0 Egypt (aet; 1-3 pens): Africa Cup of Nations semi-final – as it happened
Their sixth consecutive win in a shoot-out, and their second in this Africa Cup of Nations, brings a final against Senegal and, for those marketing the tournament, a battle between the continent’s two star turns. In the event Mohamed Salah was not required to take a spot kick after Cameroon fluffed their lines from three, Clinton Njie lifting the final penalty high. Cameroon fell short in the first match to be played at Stade Olembé since eight fans died in a crush 10 days ago.
The stadium had reopened its doors but, despite the efforts of those present, this hardly felt like the kind of festival the tournament’s organisers might have envisaged a fortnight ago. The attendance at kick off was fairly sparse, even though it would be bolstered by a section of 900 Egypt fans whose aeroplanes had cut it fine.
Outside, the extra measures employed to avoid a repeat of last Monday’s tragedy appeared to be working: security personnel managed crowd control to the most minute detail, even upbraiding anyone deemed to be walking too quickly, and this time all the gates required for safe passage inside were kept open.
But they were undoubtedly helped by the fact that many had chosen to stay away, making an under half-full arena a visually glum monument to what had passed. The vibrant scenes on the streets of nearby neighbourhoods in the buildup offered a reminder, at least, that the empty seats bore no correlation to the country’s passion for its national team. Once Cameroon got things underway, that was reflected by a noisy environment that urged António Conceiçao’s players forward.
They should have been ahead by half-time. Cameroon have pressed aggressively over the past three and a half weeks, hunting in packs and posing a consistent menace down both flanks.Gabal applauds the
That was evident when Karl Toko Ekambi blazed a trail to the right byline and saw a low centre stopped; it prompted a squall in which Egypt survived by the skin of their teeth.
When Ekambi sent in an 18th-minute corner, Michael Ngadeu saw his header rebound off the angle of post and bar. The ball was smuggled behind and, from Moumi Ngamaleu’s left-sided delivery, an unmarked Ngadeu kicked it against his standing leg. Mohamed Abou Gabal was forced to punch clear ahead of Vincent Aboubakar moments later, having briefly looked the second favourite, and at that point proceedings were rattling along at a tempo conducive to the hosts.
Egypt prefer their football more fragmented and gradually managed to slow things down, perhaps helped when Gabal required lengthy treatment after that intervention against Aboubakar. They rode their luck again when Ngamaleu skipped down the left before finding Ekambi, who miscued; by the break they had barely shown anything in attack although there was a sense that meant little.
Sadio Mané celebrates after finishing off a ruthless counter-attack to secure Senegal’s place in the final.
Sadio Mané seals Senegal’s passage to Afcon final as Burkina Faso blown away
Salah had a golden chance to prove that point in the 58th minute. Egypt are masters at waiting for mistakes, and, when Martin Hongla left a backpass short, they appeared to have found their moment. Their talisman was first to the ball as he raced to meet it ahead of André Onana, who rushed 15 yards outside his area, but the keeper stuck out a foot and diverted it away.
An empty net would have greeted Salah had he taken it around Onana, but his touch was poor and then Samuel Gouet, taking aim from 25 yards, thudded wide.
Queiroz was then sent to the stands for haranguing the officials before the 90 minutes were completed, but at the end of the shoot-out he would be without a care.