A Cup of Nations: Africa 2000
The Lion Kings
It could not have been gotten any better as Africa saw its dream final between the continents two greatest football nations of the last 20 years; Cameroon, the team of the 80s against Nigeria, the team of the 90s. It was Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions against Nigeria’s Super Green Eagles in world football’s first international championships of the new century.
By virtue of home advantage, though unconvincing throughout, Nigeria would be installed as favourites to capture the 22nd African Cup of Nations.
For the first time ever the tournament – jointly held in Ghana-Nigeria – featured more players based in Europe than on the African continent with many of world football’s biggest clubs having representatives at these championships. It was to be a spectacle well worthwhile the viewing in terms of the parade of internationally known world stars – Kanu, Kuffour, Okocha, Babayaro just a few to name.
The group stage had seen the co-host Nigeria end up comfortable winners of Group D. Not having played at full strength for almost a year left its mark as they looked a little rusty early on against fellow World Cup finalists of 98 Tunisia – one of the two nations in this group that had appeared at four consecutive tournaments. Quality shone and once Augustine Okocha had put them ahead they never looked back despite the 80,000 crowd being silenced by a Tunisian equaliser. Okocha re-claimed Nigeria’s lead before Victor Ikpeba added two more in quick succession for a comfortable 4-2 win.
A row over match fees had much to do with an inept display in the shock 0-0 draw with Congo whom had the better of the chances. Angry fans were disgusted and decided to head a near riot outside the stadium after the game, breaking team bus windows in protest of the lacklustre display. It was one of two riots inside and outside the stadium at these finals.
Government officials reacted swiftly to pay outstanding match fees to the disgruntled squad and it paid off as Morocco got eliminated in the final match of the group. Finidi George’s stunning shot of pure power was added to by debutante Julius Aghahowa who skilfully clipped the ball over the onrushing keeper.
Supreme over-confidence, as in the 98 World Cup clash with Denmark, almost cost the nation as they matched up with outsiders Senegal for a highly dramatic quarter-final. Indeed, they were minutes away from arguably the biggest upset in Nation’s Cup history after Khalilou Fadiga’s first international goal early on. It could have become two, or even three, as the Nigerian nation was truly unnerved with substitute Julius Aghahowa to save the tie and the tournament with an equaliser (and then a winner in extra-time) that was to set off a pitch invasion from fans that had thought it had been a golden goal. It would cost Nigeria’s federation a £3.500 fine after the game was brought to a standstill with Senegalese players refusing to play on until adequate order was returned.
A tactical master-stroke, switching Tijani Babangida to the left wing, in order to exploit the lack of pace in South Africa’s defence paid off within 45 seconds. The contest was over 30 minutes later after the visiting defenders had been caught flat-footed with Babangida to score again. This for a team minus Okocha provoked into elbowing an opponent before being sent-off in the Senegal tie of the quarters.
For the Cameroon, passage through the group stage had been less than 100% convincing; letting off Ghana, totally outplayed, from an opening day defeat. The visitors missed numerous chances to finish the co-host after Marc Vivien Foe had given his nation the lead. Ghana then grabbed a fortunate equaliser for an undeserved share of the spoils. Ivory Coast would not be that lucky as the class of Cameroon shone in an unstoppable and comprehensive roller-coaster victory. Raymond Kalla (of 94 and 98 fame) with a rare early goal put them on their way with his effort multiplied by Samuel Eto’o and Patrick Mboma’s driven effort from distance. Resting most of the team for the nothing-match with Togo came without consequence – a 1-0 defeat to a team that needed to win by three goals to proceed.
A quarter-final against Algeria saw the Cameroonians back to full-strength and two goals in the first 30 minutes. It was a display of complete mastery and dominance as goals from Eto’o and Vivien-Foe may well have been added upon before a consolation goal from the North Africans. A strong finish in the semi-final encounter with Tunisia ensured a place in today’s final – following a tightly contested first-half. Two goals from Mboma and a goal from Eto’o, sandwiched in-between gave a comprehensive scoreline margin win of 3-0.
With Ghana eliminated at the quarter-final stage the people of Accra seemed rarely interested in the remainder of the tournament. The team short of influential men had on the whole performed abysmally that brought a single win in four matches, and that would be achieved against minnows Togo 2-0. Two years ago little Togo had defeated a mightier Ghana team at the group stage in one of the shocks of the finals. Defeats followed against Ivory Coast (2-0) and South Africa in a quarter-final contest; a goal three minutes from half-time by Siyabonga Nomvete settled the tie. The visitors survived the 48th minute dismissal of Eric Tinkler to take its place in what turned out to be semi-final defeat against Nigeria – reached without the top scorer of 1998 Benni McCarthy whom had temporarily quit international football. A fine replacement would be found in Shaun Bartlett whom went on to win the tournaments Golden Boot award with five goals. Group B had been toppled with victories over Gabon (3-1) and DR Congo (1-0) as only Algeria survived defeat in a meaningless 1-1 draw. The third-fourth placed contest with Tunisia produced a penalty shoot-out victory of 4-2 following the 2-2 scoring draw in normal time. Tunisia had scored a last minute equaliser. However, Bapela stepped up to give South Africa victory after Arendse had stopped Zitouni’s spot-kick.
Tunisia’s final day win over Congo coupled with Morocco’s defeat in Lagos had enabled the team to qualify unexpectedly from Group D, especially following the opening day loss in the Nigeria former capital and the drab 0-0 draw with Morocco. Not content with ending Morocco’s hopes Tunisia put paid to North African rivals Egypt’s bid to hold on to the trophy they won 2 years ago in Burkina Faso – a record fourth equalling win for the Pharaohs. Out-to-spoil Egypt’s rhythm they succeeded perfectly with Khaled Badra’s penalty conversion sending the nation into a semi-final clash with Cameroon.
Looking the most complete team from the first phase Egypt had seen itself triumphant in all three first round ties; the defending champions trampling Zambia in Hossan Hassan’s 137th international with two goals either side of half-time. Zambia were thumped 4-0 by the Egyptians just 2 years previous in Burkina Faso’s finals. Hassan’s second successive goal, a diving header on 39 minutes, would be enough for a narrow 1-0 victory over an impressive Senegal team. It was to be a goal shrouded in controversy after the linesman had his flag up and another ball had bounced onto the pitch; Senegal’s official protest was turned down. In the game of the finals Egypt had overturned a shock 2-0 lead for Burkina Faso to become 4-2 victors. Libero Hany Ramzy from inside the penalty area and on the turn crashed in the best goal. Burkina Faso had been one of the tournaments Gung-Ho and most entertaining teams, perhaps unfortunate to lose an opening contest to the Senegalese – 3-1 the flattering scoreline in favour of a team making its first appearance at the finals since 1994. A scrambled goal from Alassane Ouedraogo had given the Stallions a last gasp equaliser to deny Dennis Lota’s overhead ‘goal of the finals’. Zambia’s final day 2-2 draw with Senegal consigned them along with Faso to the role of also-rans.