Libreville - After witnessing some of their top players’ withdrawal, not many would have put their money on Cameroon reaching the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.
That belongs to the past because on Sunday the Indomitable Lions will contest the final against seven-time champions Egypt without eight players who turned down their call-ups.
What Cameroon have done without Joël Matip, Allan Nyom, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Maxime Poundjé, André Zambo Anguissa, Ibrahim Amadou, Andre Onana and Guy N’dy Assembé is remarkable and commendable.
The Indomitable Lions were not supposed to get out of the group stages and, moreover, they were not given a chance to beat Senegal in the quarterfinals and the Black Stars of Ghana in the semis, without so many of their big names.
But Hugo Broos’ side, who have been the surprise of the tournament, did not look overawed by their star-studded opposition and defied all odds to book a place in the final.
Cameroon last won the tournament in 2002 and lifting the trophy would be a huge return to form.
One last hurdle for the west Africans and they will be champions.
But they come up against an Egyptian side who are on the rise following a rather lean spell since the 2010 final.
The Pharaohs have played Cameroon in two Africa Cup of Nations finals before in 1986 and 2008 and won both.
The fact that Egypt have conceded just one goal in the tournament and Cameroon just two shows that the two teams are solid at the back.
After a six-year absence from the finals, Egypt have come back with a vengeance and are on the verge of conquering the continent once again and extending their own record as the most successful Nations Cup side with an eighth title.
Mohamed Elneny, who missed the quarterfinal and semi-final victories over Morocco and Burkina Faso, could return from a calf injury.
Mohamed Salah has been outstanding for the north Africans and is the man to watch on Sunday night.
On paper, Egypt go into the game as hot favourites to continue their dominance over Cameroon.
However, this tournament has shown that upsets do happen in football and Cameroon could not be dismissed as no-hopers.
The 2019 Afcon hosts will want to be able to defend the title at home in two years’ time.
Once again the spotlight will fall on Egypt veteran goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, who is the reason his side is in the final.
In contrast, at 21 Cameroon’s goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa is less than half of his age but has shown maturity beyond his age.
Broos has been able to weave his side into a solid unit that fight for each other. Whatever happens, the young Cameroon side has already made its mark.
The final is not only about north Africa versus west Africa, but also experience against inexperience.