CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – After three weeks, Egypt made its fans wait as long as possible to celebrate the African Cup title.
Mohamed Aboutrika converted the clinching penalty and Egypt prevailed over Ivory Coast 4-2 after a goalless draw, earning the country a record fifth continental crown and sparking eruptions of joy in a crowd of 74,000 and across the capital.
“It’s great, it’s great … I have been to every Egypt game and now they’ve won,” said fan Ali El-Sebaeh, a musician dressed in traditional costume. “I knew they would do it.”
After 120 minutes of goalless soccer, goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari became a hero, saving penalty attempts by Didier Drogba and Bakary Kone to give the Pharaohs the title.
“This tournament belongs to the Egyptian fans. It was not one single player who won this. It was a joint effort,” veteran striker Hossam Hassan said after being hugged by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and lifting the trophy.
The victory gave Egypt its first title since 1998 and one more than Ghana and Cameroon.
Drogba who scored three goals in the tournament twice failed on Friday. Besides failing to score in the shootout, Drogba wasted Ivory Coast’s best chance in the 77th minute, shooting high over an empty net.
Egypt’s victory capped the 21-day tournament that drew attention due to the involvement World Cup qualifiers and superstars from European leagues, like Drogba and Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o.
Eto’o led the tournament with five goals for Cameroon but missed a penalty in a shootout that cost the Indomitable Lions a quarterfinal loss to Ivory Coast.
Played in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Ismailia, the African Cup was a proving ground for Africa’s four first-time qualifiers to the World Cup.
Most failed miserably. Togo, Angola and Ghana all were eliminated at the group stage. Only Ivory Coast ground out low-scoring victories to advance.
Instead, Eto’o’s sensational goals, players’ pay disputes and tantrums of the field provided the drama, as well as surprise thrillers from low-ranked Congo and Guinea.
Celtic’s Bobo Balde led Guinea’s three group-stage victories before finally being edged out by Senegal. And Claude Leroy’s Congo also surprised, running opponents ragged after the country’s 34-year-old President Joseph Kabila intervened to pay players’ their bonuses.
However, a lasting image is likely to be that of Egyptian striker Mido, who degenerated from hero to villain before rejoining his teammates to share in the title glory.
The 22-year-old Tottenham forward was kicked off the team following the semifinals for arguing with coach Hassan Shehata and reportedly calling him a “donkey” after he was substituted.
He later humbly apologized on television but his six-month national team ban was left standing. He watched the final from the media tribune, denied a place on the bench, but embraced his teammates during the penalty shootout and joined celebrations, even sharing jokes with Shehata.
“Mido is an excellent player, he’s committed and loyal,” Hassan said. “Let’s not exaggerate what happened.”
Besides playing without Mido on Friday, Egypt had to overcome the loss of defender Wael Gomaa in the 22nd minute because of injury. Amr Zaki had a goal disallowed in the 84th minute, and captain Ahmed Hassan clanged a disputed penalty off the post in the 95th minute.
Ivory Coast had its chances but failed to convert an opportunity by Kolo Toure in 38th before Drogba’s 77th minute calamity.
“Of course it’s disappointing for us … but we are a strong team and are going to the World Cup,” Ivory Coast’s Abdoulaye Meite said. “With penalties you always know it’s heads or tails.”
Egypt’s Samir Sabri just looked relieved for the game to be over.
“I was very nervous, it was such a tense match,” Sabri said. “I’m just so happy for the fans.”