Ivory Coast take heart from narrow defeat
Ivory Coast may have failed in their bid to lift the African Nations Cup for a second time but they can at least leave a jubilant and exultant Egypt with a crumb of comfort.
Physically superior but the victims of some poor refereeing decisions in a disappointing final, the Ivorians eventually succumbed 4-2 on penalties to the hosts after 120 minutes of tedium had failed to produce a goal.
Heads bowed, they would have trudged off the field at the Cairo International Stadium believing fate had played a part in gifting Egypt a record fifth competition win.
But Henri Michel's team will feel they did enough in the tournament to suggest their status as dark horses ahead of the forthcoming World Cup finals in Germany is entirely justified.
'Of course it's disappointing for us,' said Ivory Coast defender Abdoulaye Meite, who did not start in the final. 'But we are a strong team and we are going to the World Cup with confidence.
'With penalties, you always know it's a case of heads or tails.'
Ivory Coast may have lost their nerve in the penalty shoot-out, which ended when Mohamed Aboutrika stroked home the winning spot-kick after Didier Drogba and Bakary Kone had been denied by Egypt goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari.
But the same could be said of Tunisian referee Mourad Daami, who awarded Egypt a highly controversial penalty in extra-time when he adjudged Blaise Kossi Kouassi to have brought down Mohamed Barakat.
Ahmed Hassan, the Egypt captain who was later named player of the tournament, crashed the resulting spot-kick against the post and it seemed the Elephants would go on to make the tired hosts pay.
But despite dominating possession and territory, they were not able to create a better chance than that which was squandered by Didier Drogba from five yards out in the 77th minute.
Michel, whose side will face Argentina, Holland and Serbia & Montenegro in their group in Germany this summer, said: 'I'm very proud of the team and everything we've done. In the second half we had good chances and at that time, the Egyptians were dead physically.
'But when you've got chances, you have to take them.'
Egypt, meanwhile, were left to rejoice yet another African Nations Cup title, with even Mido, the Tottenham striker who was dropped from the squad following his bust-up with coach Hassan Shehata in the semi-final, joining in the celebrations.
Abdelhalim Ali, who plays for Zamalek in Egypt, said: 'I have won many titles with my club, but this beats everything.
'We will now have a party and this will continue for a very long time.'
Ali, whose miss in the shoot-out proved to be irrelevant, even had words of comfort for the Ivorians.
'They were very good and I wish them luck at the World Cup. I think they can do well there.'