A final-day curse has followed Argentinean manager, Hector Cuper, all his career and AFCON 2017 was no different for the Egypt boss
“I don’t want to say I’m used to losing another final, it is one more for me, the point is that I wanted to win this one,” were the words of a deflated Hector Cuper following his Egypt side’s agonizing defeat to Cameroon in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.
The showcase event of the continent’s football provided Egypt, Cameroon and Cuper with at a shot at redemption following recent struggles, or in the Argentine coach’s case, a career of ‘what-might-have beens.’
The Pharoahs had established themselves as one of Africa’s most dominant forces when they captured three consecutive Cup of Nations titles between 2008 and 2010.
However, to the backdrop of political unrest and the Port Said stadium riot in 2012 which killed 74 people, Egyptian football was plunged into disarray resulting in their non-appearance in the next three tournaments, a domestic league ban for two years and games being played behind closed doors for four.
Nicolas Nkoulou’s and Vincent Aboubakar’s second-half goals to hand Cameroon victory may have denied Egypt their fairytale ending but as Hani Abou-Rida, chairman of the Egyptian Football Association said, the side “accomplished a great success.”
So, while Egyptian football may have restored pride and joy even in defeat, Cameroon were fortunate to exercise their own demons in victory.
The glory years of Roger Milla leading the Indomitable Lions to the trophy in 1984 and 1988 or Samuel Eto’o repeating the trick in 2000 and 2002 seemed a distant memory in the build-up to his year’s tournament but Hugo Broos’ unfancied side captured their fifth Cup of Nations.
Without a star in the mold of Milla or Eto’o, Broos wasn’t even able to select his first choice squad after a number of high-profile withdrawals but despite the setbacks, Cameroon celebrated one of their greatest triumphs.
Both nations in that sense achieved success but for Hector Cuper the tag of brave loser was one he was desperate to shake off.
A 24-year managerial career that saw the 61-year-old Argentine be named UEFA coach of the year has been punctuated by costly defeats and Sunday’s Cup of Nations final was Cuper’s golden opportunity to end that run.
Instead, Cameroon added what Cuper himself counts as failure number eight following his Huracan side losing on the final day of a league season to surrender the title in 1994, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup finals with Mallorca, two consecutive Champions League finals with Valencia, falling to defeat again on the last day as Inter Milan coach handing the title to Juventus and the Greek Cup final as manager of Aris Thessaloniki.
Cuper has coached in seven different countries but hasn’t been able to rid himself of the curse and Libreville provided no sanctuary on Sunday evening.
The unwanted streak continues but El Cabezon has breathed life back into Egypt and after some years in the footballing wilderness, there is a sense that this has been reciprocated by Cuper.
For now the ‘specialist in losing finals’ reputation remains and Cuper feels the pain of the Egyptian players and supporters: “I’m sorry that we couldn’t give happiness to Egyptians because I imagine that there as a lot of expectation among them.”
However, it is not the end of the road for Cuper and Egypt and World Cup qualification provides another opportunity for redemption. The Pharoahs haven’t been to biggest event in world football since 1990 and if Cuper can lead them back from exile, all would be forgotten.