The Africa Cup of Nations, often known as the African Nations Cup or the African Cup of Nations, is Africa’s most important football (soccer) competition. The Confédération Africaine de Football organizes the tournament, which is contested by national teams (CAF).
The format of the competition has evolved over time, with the number of teams increasing from three in 1957 to 24 in 2019, following multiple expansions. Growing interest led to the addition of qualification rounds in 1968, the same year the CAF chose to hold the tournament every two years.
The first Africa Cup of Nations was contested in Khartoum, Sudan, in February 1957, with Egypt defeating the host nation in the final to win the Abdel Aziz Abdallah Salem Trophy, named after the trophy’s benefactor, an Egyptian who was the first CAF president.
When Ghana became the first country to win the tournament three times in 1978, the trophy was given to them permanently. When Cameroon won its third championship since 1978, the African Unity Cup was granted to them permanently in 2000. A new trophy, the Cup of Nations, was established in 2002.
The competition has served as a showcase for African players’ abilities. The tournament’s offensive, entertaining style of play captivated African spectators in the 1950s and 1960s, attracting European talent scouts, agents, and journalists.
The cup gained considerable worldwide reputation under the leadership of Ethiopian Ydnekachew Tessema, who served as CAF president from 1972 until his death in 1987. Corporate sponsorships were accepted in 1984, and professionalism was authorized in 1980.
Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon, who holds the record for most career goals scored in the Cup of Nations (18), and Ivorian striker Laurent Pokou, who scored five goals in a 6–1 victory over Ethiopia in 1970, are two of the tournament’s best players.
Beyond the playing fields, the Cup of Nations has served as a platform for the expression of political beliefs and ideas.
Many independent African governments spent significant economic and political capital in national football teams to elicit pride and promote unity among their diverse populations, having inherited colonial institutions devoid of indigenous emblems of national identity.
Ghana, for example, won the cup in 1963 and 1965 with the ardent support of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. South Africa’s racially mixed team looked to exemplify football’s potential to heal the vast social and economic gaps left by apartheid by winning the 1996 tournament at home.
The Algerian government, on the other hand, was unable to capitalize on the country’s success in the 1990 Cup of Nations, as fans in Algiers celebrated the team’s victory by chanting support for the opposition Islamic Salvation Front.
The 2010 Cup of Nations was violently disrupted by political tensions: the Togo team bus was attacked by separatist gunmen on its way to the tournament in the Angolan exclave of Cabinda; two team officials and the bus driver were killed in the attack, and the Togolese team withdrew from the tournament, which had a 15-team field.
AFCON 2021 will be held in Cameroon with Nigeria, Morocco and host country Cameroon tipped as the favorite to lift the trophy. But, this is football and one cannot predict the winner from the onset.
The table below shows the champions of the Africa Cup of Nations;
|Africa Cup of Nations|
|*Finals held in even-numbered years 1968–2012; held in odd-numbered years from 2013.|