Greg Lalas
Monday February 11th, 2008

Oh!

That's how this Africa Cup of Nations began. And that's how it fittingly ended.

After the first half of the final between Egypt and Cameroon finished 0-0, with Cameroon keeper Carlos Kameni playing out of his skull and the Egyptian back three swatting away anything the Cameroonians could muster, you just knew it was going to take an Oh! moment to win this one.

And that moment came in the 77th minute, when speedy Mohamed Zidan hassled the decidedly non-speedy Rigobert Song on a ball over the top. Everyone in Ohene Djan Stadium realized this wasn't going to work out well for Song. The Galatasaray centerback tried to body Zidan away from the ball but his 31-year-old legs stumbled -- and the Hamburg striker stripped him of possession.

That was the Oh! moment.

What came next was not surprising. Zidan passed the ball across the top of the box to a late-arriving Mohamed Aboutreika, who confidently slotted the ball into the lower corner. 1-0. Game over.

This play -- this result -- was inevitable. Even the Ghanaian fans in the stadium, many of whom had become unexpected supporters of the Pharoahs, knew so. So sure were the journalists in the media tribune, we could have drawn it up on a chalkboard like Pele diagramming the prisoners' offense in Victory.

(I know, I know. Poor form to mention Victory in soccer article. It's almost as bad as mentioning Heart of Darkness in an article on Africa. But it works, nonetheless.)

So now Egypt are the champions of Africa, back to back, something that hasn't been done since 2000 and 2002 when this same Cameroon side turned the trick. The Pharoahs now have six titles, the most overall.

But all of this success, nice as it is, just raises expectations. Egypt, the consensus giant of Africa, has qualified for the World Cup only twice (in 1934 and 1990). No one's really sure why this is -- but most observers expect 2010 to be a different story.

They point specifically to quixotic coach, Hassan Shehata, who has put together a team, a real team, with youth and experience, creative types and workers.

Shehata has had some success on the global stage at the youth levels. Now, he must -- must -- get Egypt into the World Cup in 2010. He knows this, I'm sure.

He also know that if this impressive group of players does qualify for South Africa, watch out. They will be a team to contend with. A team that might make everyone in the world say Oh!

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