It wasn't that people completely shrugged off Egypt as a challenge, but they certainly weren't favorites, even though they boasted winning the title for a record 5 times.
The favorites weren't wary of the threat Egypt carried. But the alarm bells began ringing when Egypt trounced Ivory Coast with a 4-1 score-line in Kumasi. Perhaps that was the signal, the unspoken prophecy, that the resurgence of Egypt had began and they were out to prove that their tags as defending Champions was not a work of the fluke artist.
Egypt's only black spot in the whole campaign was a 1-1 draw with Zambia, but they learnt from that match, recording victories over Sudan, Tunisia and then finally Ivory Coast in the semi-finals.
Star power certainly wasn't the factor, as even with the likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Soloman Kalou and other Europe based superstars, Ivory Coast remained helpless to the demolition dished out by the mighty Egyptians.
Cameroon presented a different challenge, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle in the form of star striker Samuel Eto'o, the all time leading scorer of the championship, boasting a tally of 16 goals. Even that caused no harm to the Egyptian team's confidence level, as they fought and grilled out a 1-0 win, compliment of Mohammed Aboutraika, who scored in the 77th minute after being set-up by Zidan. The latter, an accomplished striker for Hamburg, admitted that he regretted choosing his club over country in the previous, but felt humbled at grateful at the opportunity of being able with the Champions.
While all Egypt celebrated their unforeseen triumph, Egypt proved that they were a class apart and it was never due to home advantage that they had been victors the last time around. The now record holders for being Africa's conquerors for 6 times paid tribute to their courageous players, 5 of whom made it to the African All-Stars team.
Notably the cream of the crop were Essam El-Hadary, whose heroics kept goals at bay, Mohammed Zidan, who proved to be a constant thorn for the opposition defense and Mohammed Aboutraika, who constantly made sure the fluency of the passing game kept an unpredictability and high tempo throughout the game.
After the Asian Cup and African Nations cup, all we can do is look forward to more surprises in Euro 2008 and then more shocks in 2010. Till then, remember the moral, it isn't star power that wins games, but teamwork and heart, both which Egypt showed throughout the tournament. All hail the conquerors!
By Osama Rahman
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