Despite many of their top stars boycotting the Africa Cup of Nations, Cameroon have shocked the continent to win the title, defeating Egypt 2-1 on Sunday. Two substitutes were their heroes, with Nicolas Nkoulou and Vincent Aboubacar finding the back of the net in the second half.
It was Egypt who struck first, with Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny scoring a stunner in the 21st minute. Amr Warda started the move with a run down the right wing — he laid back to Mohamed Salah, and the Roma winger hit a perfect pass into the box. Elneny picked it up and, fooling the goalkeeper, blasted the ball into the top corner at the near post when Fabrice Ondoa was expecting him to go to the other side.
An injury to defender Adolf Teikeu forced Cameroon into a change in the 31st minute. Nkoulou, who was once his team’s captain but was benched for this tournament, came on in his place. Cameroon made a tactical sub in the 46th minute, with Aboubakar replacing Robert Tambe up top.
Nkoulou fired the Lions level in the 59th minute, following a corner. Egypt cleared the initial cross in, but didn’t do a good job of defending the second ball. Benjamin Moukandjo played a gorgeous cross into the center of the area, and Nkoudou was there to head home.
Egypt looked like the more likely team to score after that, but pushed too many men forward, and were undone on the counter just two minutes from full time. Aboubacar, who was surprisingly given little game time in this tournament, picked a perfect time to score his first goal.
And he might not score a better goal than this in his whole career. Facing three defenders by himself, he chested down a long ball, played a rainbow flick to himself, and smacked a half-volley into the back of the net.
This is Cameroon’s first African title since 2002, and it’s made even more incredible by the fact that seven of their first-choice regulars chose to stay home and focus on their club careers. Cameroon would have been one of the favorites to win the title with their full squad, but certainly not without their top players. In the end, it turned out that the Lions didn’t need them.
Egypt lineup: El Hadary, Fathy, Hegazi, Gabr, Elmohamady, Hamed, Elneny, El Said, Trezeguet (Sobhi 66’), Warda, Salah
Goals: Elneny (22’)
Cameroon lineup: Ondoa, Oyongo, Teikeu (Nkoulou 31’), Ngadeu-Ngadjui, Fai, Siani, Djoum, Moukandjo, Zoua (Mandjeck 90’), Bassogog, Tambe (Aboubacar 46’)
Goals: NKoulou (59’), Aboubakar (88’)