Three weeks of pulsating action reminded football fans all over the world why the African Cup of Nations is such a gripping competition. And, when it was all said and done, Egypt were celebrating their third title in a row after a 1-0 victory over Ghana.

But in reflecting on the Egyptians’ stranglehold on the African Cup of Nations, it is impossible not to reflect on their failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Take nothing away from South Africa, Algeria and the other nations representing Africa this summer but the competition will be poorer without the Egyptians.

Without a doubt, there were countless outstanding performers during a tournament that sprung its fair share of surprises, such as the quarter-final exits for the Ivory Coast and Cameroon. For all the superlatives that are rightly thrown in the direction of Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o, Egypt and Algeria – to name just two – proved that they have plenty of stars of their own.

Algeria’s campaign ended in the semi-finals with a 4-0 pummelling at the hands of Egypt but not before Madjid Bougherra had made his mark. Capable of playing in defence or midfield, Bougherra was influential in helping Algeria reach the last four. His spells with Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton might not have been earth-shattering but he has shown promise at current club Rangers and he was among Africa’s best over the past three weeks. And who could forget the crucial, last gasp equaliser against the Ivory Coast that forced extra-time. Expect him to be a key man in South Africa this summer, where he will bump into England’s Wayne Rooney in the group stage.


And then there were the Egyptian stars who really brought the tournament to life. From goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary through to front man Mohamed Zidan, the champions made a huge statement. They might not be going to the World Cup, but the Egyptians can certainly play. Gedo, or Mohamed Nagy to give him his full name, rightly won the Discovery of the Tournament award after finishing as the top goalscorer. The 25-year-old netted twice in the group stage then came to life in the knockout stages, scoring in every round. And it was fitting that Gedo bagged the late match-winner in the final, capping a run of displays that will surely have caught the eye of some of the European big boys. Do not be surprised if offers start flooding in for the attacker this summer.

Player of the Tournament and skipper Ahmed Hassan cannot escape mention either. This was his fourth African Cup of Nations title and, at 34, it could be his last. Given his veteran status, he can hardly be described as a ‘find’ like Gedo but he cemented his place in his country’s history books, winning an Egyptian record 172nd cap in the final. And his experience was vital throughout Egypt’s impressive campaign, never more so than against the Cameroonians in a match where he cancelled out an own goal with two at the right end. He might not have the appeal of the youthful Gedo, but Ahmed Hassan had a fabulous campaign.

Notable mentions also go to Angola defender Mabina, who enhanced his reputation during the group stage despite the Angolans’ staggering 4-4 draw against Mali that kicked off the tournament, and Nigerian Peter Odemwingie, whose performance against Mozambique was particularly stylish and memorable. Both deservedly earned spots in the Team of the Tournament.

There can be few complaints about the quality of football and the sheer entertainment served up during the African Cup of Nations. It had a little bit of everything and offered plenty of ammunition for those who support its existence in the midst of European seasons. Egypt were worthy winners and their hat-trick of titles truly makes them the kings of Africa.

The only sour note, asides from the sad situation involving the Togo team, was the realisation that Gedo, Hassan and company will not be gracing the World Cup with their presence. And pundits have wasted little time in questioning why the African Cup of Nations winners do not get an automatic qualification for the World Cup. That is a debate that will run and run but it is hard to argue with the logic.

That particular stage in South Africa will belong to other emerging talents but the Egyptians can content themselves in the knowledge that the African Cup of Nations was their moment in the limelight once again this year.