Story: Kwame Asare Boadu, Kumasi
Cameroun are furious, and rightly so, for they have an axe to grind with Egypt. The Pharoahs scuttled the Indomitable Lions’ dream of making it to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and since then Cameroun have been nurturing plans to pay the Egyptians back.
And with a clean bill of health on both sides, fans should expect a potentially explosive opener to Group C of the MTN Africa Cup of Nations at the Baba Yara Stadium today as two of Africa’s greatest sides cross swords.
A match of this nature could best pass for the final before the final, and whoever carry the day are likely to advance to the top of the group. The two camps are seething silently from their corners, albeit in the spirit of competitiveness.
Away from the burning desire to undo each other, the combatants have so much respect for each other, something that will be translated into one of the fiercest pitch battles to be staged in the three-week soccer fiesta.
Between the two sides they have won the championship nine times - five to Egypt and four for Cameroun-and the desire to build on their performance is already evident.
Egypt’s record is more frightening in the 26-year-old history of the Cup of Nations, winning the cup in 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998 and 2006, and making their 21st appearance in Ghana 2008.
Typical of the Pharoahs, they enter the game with a squad that is likely to be dominated by locally-based players.
The Pharoahs have always made use of, and indeed benefited from players playing locally. Nineteen of their 26-member squad to Ghana 2008 are playing in local sides, notably Al-Ahly, Zamalek and Ismaily. This typifies the strength of the Egyptian first devision league.
Keeper Essam Al-Hadary, defenders Shady Mohammed and Ahmed Fathi, midfielder Mohammed Aboutreika, and forwards Amr Zaki and Emad Motaeb are all locally-based players who are ready to do battle today.
A lot will depend on trainer Hasan Shehata, the man who crafted the 2006 Nations cup victory on home soil, to emerge with another winning formula. But the coach, himself a Nations Cup veteran, will have to dig deep into his repetoire of knowledge to make a good start to the tournament, bearing in mind the power behind the Camerounian game.
The Indomitable Lions have the men who are tried and tested and could hold onto the any challenge on a good day.
In keeper Idris Carlos Kameni, the Indomitable Lions have a safe pair of hands. His reflexes have been very good, and if he receives the right cover from Rigobert Song, Thomithee Atouba and Gilles Augusti Binya, Cameroun could put the spokes in the wheels of Egypt.
So much is expected from one of Africa’s all-time greatest strikers, Samuel Eto’o. The FC Barcelona striker’s awesome presence in the Camerounian team could have a positive impact on their game.
Fortunately for Cameroun, their coach, Otto Pfister, is no new face in Ghana. He once coached the national team and knows the Ghanaian terrain very well
The Sudan enter the second Group game against Zambia with a team that is wholly home-based and from two main clubs, Al-Merriekh and Al-Hilal. Forward players Abdul Hamid Amari and Faisal Agab who play for Al-Merriekh are dangerous in their own right in the Sudanese league and it will be interesting how they translate their form into the Nations Cup.
For Zambia a lot will depend on Skipper Chris Katongo. He commands so much respect in the team and this should bear on their output. A draw game looks more likely.