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Mon 11 Feb 2008 02:38 AM

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Egypt take sixth African crown

Defending champions hold onto African Nations Cup with 1-0 victory over Cameroon to clinch record sixth title.

Egypt retained their African Nations Cup crown here Sunday when Mohamed Aboutraika scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Cameroon which also delivered a record sixth title.

The defending champions ensured they held on to the trophy when, after a slick passing movement, Aboutraika struck in the 77th minute for a deserved success.

"We are delighted to win. It's a great achievement," said the Al Ahly star who recalled that it was he who had converted the winning penalty that beat Ivory Coast two years ago in Cairo.

"Don't forget in 2006 I got the last penalty that won us our first title, and now today I score again to win the second one.

"Now we have to make sure that we keep this form going into the World Cup qualifiers.

"It's one of the greatest days of my life. It's up there with winning the African Champions League”.

Egypt's assistant coach Shawki Gharib, who first won the title as a player in 1986, added: "I'm thrilled to make history twice for my country, first as a player, second as coach, and to make all our people happy".

Cameroon's Geremi, whose long range freekicks troubled the Egyptians, said: "Like any player I don't like to lose, especially in the final, but the positive thing is we made it to the final, many people weren't giving us much of a chance".

Asked about captain Rigobert Song's mistake which led to Aboutraika's goal the Newcastle player added: "When someone makes a mistake you can't blame him, it happens”.

The result was the Pharoahs final act in a hugely impressive campaign which saw them build on the defeat of Cameroon in their opening group game to record victories over Sudan, Tunisia and then Ivory Coast in the semi-finals.

The only minor blemish was a 1-1 draw with Zambia.

Egypt were adding the 2008 trophy to their wins in 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998 and 2006 with coach Hassan Shehata becoming only the second coach to win back-to-back titles.

Cameroon were without suspended defender Andre Bikey, but Alexandre Song, stretchered off in the semi-final win over Ghana, was on the pitch.

However, the Arsenal defender only lasted a quarter of an hour, limping off dejectedly with Benfica's Gilles Binya taking his place.

Before Song's exit, Egypt's Hosny Abd Rabou had hit a 30m free kick which flew over the Cameroon defence before goalkeeper Carlos Kameni had to look sharp to deny Emad Moteab's angled shot.

Egypt skipper Ahmed Hassan then did well to stick his foot out to deflect Joel Epaule's effort.

Pharoahs' keeper Essam al-Hadary, man of the match against Ivory Coast, was up to the job of denying a 30m freekick special from Geremi before Kameni produced an acrobatic dive to keep out Moteab's dangerous strike.

Samuel Eto'o took on the Egyptian defence singlehandedly approaching the break only for his shot to edge wide of the far post.

Egypt looked the more likely to score in the opening 45 minutes but captain Rigobert Song, Kameni and the rest of the Cameroon defence were holding tight.

The only surprise was that neither country had been able to add to their 14 goal haul since battle commenced three weeks ago.

Eto'o, the competition's all time top scorer, had the Egyptians scampering around on the hour mark with a lightning run down the left.

Cameroon coach Otto Pfister then introduced striker Mohamadou Idrissou for a midfielder, Achille Emana, as he sought the keys to unlock the Egyptians with Shehata swopping Moteab for Hamburg striker Mohamed Zidan.

Zidan scored twice in Egypt's win over Cameroon earlier in the tournament and he was instrumental in putting them into a 77nd minute lead.

He robbed the tiring Rigobert Song and his slide rule pass from the left found the unmarked Aboutraika who calmly struck low and hard past Kameni.

That was the Al Ahly midfielder's fourth goal, and it set up a fraught final quarter of an hour as Cameroon frantically tried to get back into the match but the defending champions held on to take the continental cup back to Cairo.

In the Egyptian capital, the victory brought joy and relief.

Crowds of people wearing the national flag colours of red, black and white poured into the streets as the final whistle blew.

"Finally something joyous happens to us," said Mohammed Said, sporting an Egyptian flag instead of his traditional galabaya robe.

"With the government we have everything is sad, the prices, the boats sink and trains crash, this is the only thing that gives us joy."

Coptic Christian Adel Zaki added: "It's one of the rare occasions when there are no Muslims and Copts and we are only Egyptians. We feel united and it is the only thing we celebrate together."

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