Egypt turns back the clock to reach African Cup final
ABS-CBN Sports on Feb 02, 2017 06:16 PM
Egypt players celebrate after winning the African Cup of Nations semifinal soccer match between Burkina Faso and Egypt at the Stade de l'Amitie, in Libreville, Gabon, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Egypt defeated Burkins Faso 4-3 in a penalty shoot out after the game ended tied 1-1. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
GERALD IMRAY, AP Sports Writer
LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) — Egypt's 44-year-old goalkeeper made two saves in a penalty shootout win over Burkina Faso on Wednesday to lead the African Cup of Nations' most successful team back into the final after seven years of hurt.
Essam el-Hadary dived high to his left to save from Burkina Faso goalkeeper Kouakou Koffi, and then stopped the decisive penalty from Bertrand Traore to make the record seven-time winner's return to the African Cup a joyous one.
After winning a third straight title in 2010, Egypt failed to qualify at all for the next three tournaments amid political turmoil at home.
El-Hadary raised his arms in the air to celebrate his second, match-winning save at Stade de l'Amitie in Gabon as his teammates sprinted over to hug him. His own 21-year career with the Egypt team, which includes four titles already, will have one more final.
Egypt will play the winner of Thursday's second semifinal between Ghana and Cameroon.
Egypt won the shootout over Burkina Faso 4-3 in Libreville thanks to back-to-back saves from el-Hadary at the end to turn it around after Abdallah Said had missed the first penalty for the Egyptians, sending his effort off the left post.
The game finished 1-1 after extra time, with Mohamed Salah giving Egypt a 66th-minute lead and Aristide Bance equalizing for Burkina Faso seven minutes later.
The ending was cruel for Burkina Faso, which was the more promising team for much of the game as Egypt relied on its so-far successful tactics of defending deep, soaking up pressure, and trying to hit its opponent on the counterattack.
"They were better in most of the game," said Egypt coach Hector Cuper. "They had so many chances. Our aim was to reach penalty kicks because then there are lots of things that can happen."
Traore was one of Burkina Faso's best players on the night, but sent the crucial penalty kick too close to el-Hadary when he needed to score to take the shootout into sudden death.
As Egypt's players mobbed their goalkeeper and captain, the 21-year-old Traore put his hands on his head, turned his back on the Egyptian joy, and kicked the grass. He and Koffi, who is 20, are the youngest players on Burkina Faso's team.
"It can happen to any of us," Burkina Faso midfielder Abdou Traore said. "We are family, we are teammates. We missed the penalty. We lose together, we win together. Today it's like we all missed the penalty, not only Bertrand Traore and Koffi. It's the team who missed the penalty."
Egypt's counterattacking tactics worked perfectly for Salah to score first in normal time. After Egypt broke out of defense quickly, the ball fell to Salah on the edge of the penalty area and he sent a sweet left-foot shot curling into the top left corner.
Burkina Faso, the losing finalist at the African Cup in 2013, forced its way back into the game soon after with a clever move down the right. Captain Charles Kabore crossed for big striker Bance, who chested the ball down and volleyed it past el-Hadary.
To underline el-Hadary's influence, it was the first goal he and Egypt had conceded at the tournament.
El-Hadary became the oldest player to play at the African Cup at this tournament, and wasn't even first choice at the start. He was part of the Egypt team that won three straight African Cups from 2006-10, but had to sit and watch the last three tournaments, with Egyptian soccer suffering as a result of the turmoil back home.
In Gabon el-Hadary arrived as one of Egypt's backup goalkeepers to first-choice Ahmed el-Shenawy.
But from the time he came on as a substitute for the injured el-Shenawy 25 minutes into Egypt's first game, and took over as captain, he was their inspiration. He pulled off a series of saves in regular and extra time against Burkina Faso to keep Egypt alive.
Back in the final, the one-time kings of African football will face one of their closest challengers in the deciding game on Sunday. Both Ghana and Cameroon have won four African Cups, the teams with the next-best records behind Egypt.
Follow Gerald Imray on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP