The CAF Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), it also called in French as Coupe d’Afrique des Nations (CAN), also referred to as Total Energies Africa Cup of Nations after its headline sponsor, and sometimes as also called the African Cup of Nations and African Nations Cup, is the most prestigious football (soccer) competition in Africa. It is contested by national teams and is organized by the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF). The competition’s format has changed over time, with the number of teams increasing from 3 in 1957 to, after several expansions, 24 in 2019. Growing participation also led to the introduction of qualifying rounds in 1968, the same year that CAF decided to hold the tournament biennially.
In the first tournament in 1957, there were only three participating nations: Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. South Africa was originally scheduled to join but was disqualified due to the apartheid policies of the government then in power. Since then, the tournament has expanded greatly, making it necessary to hold a qualifying tournament. The number of participants in the final tournament reached 16 in 1998 (16 teams were to compete in 1996, but Nigeria withdrew, reducing the field to 15, and the same happened with Togo‘s withdrawal in 2010), and until 2017, the format had been unchanged, with the 16 teams being drawn into four groups of four teams each, with the top two teams of each group advancing to a “knock-out” stage. On 20 July 2017, the Africa Cup of Nations was moved from January to June and expanded from 16 to 24 teams.
The competition has served as a showcase for the talents of African players. In the 1950s and ’60s the tournament’s attacking, entertaining style of play seized the imagination of African fans and attracted European talent scouts, agents, and journalists. Under the leadership of Ethiopian Ydnekachew Tessema, CAF president from 1972 until his death in 1987, the cup earned greater international prestige. Professionalism was allowed in 1980 and corporate sponsorships were accepted in 1984. Among the cup’s greatest performers is Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon, who holds the record for most career goals scored in the Cup of Nations (18).
History of the Africa Cup of Nations
The origin of the African Nations Cup dates from June 1956, when the creation of the Confederation of African Football was proposed during the third FIFA congress in Lisbon. There were immediate plans for a continental tournament to be held and, in February 1957, the first Africa Cup of Nations was held in Khartoum, Sudan. There was no qualification for this tournament, the field is made up of the four founding nations of CAF (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Africa). South Africa’s insistence on selecting only white players for its squad due to its apartheid policy led to its disqualification, and as a consequence, Ethiopia was handed a bye straight to the final. Hence only two matches were played, with Egypt being crowned as the first continental champion after defeating hosts Sudan in the semi-final and Ethiopia in the final. Two years later Egypt hosted the second ANC in Cairo with the participation of the same three teams. Host and defending champions Egypt again won, after defeating Sudan.
The field grew to include nine teams for the third ANC in 1961 in Addis Ababa, and for the first time, there was a qualification round to determine which four teams would play for the title. Host Ethiopia and reigning champion Egypt received automatic berths and were joined in the final four by Nigeria and Tunisia. Egypt made its third consecutive final appearance, but the Ethiopia team emerged as victors, first beating Tunisia and then downing Egypt in extra time.
Beyond the boundaries of the playing fields, the Cup of Nations has been a conduit for the articulation of political values and ideas. Having inherited colonial institutions devoid of indigenous symbols of national identity, many independent African governments invested considerable economic and political capital into national football teams in order to elicit pride and build unity among their diverse populations. For example, with the enthusiastic support of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana won the cup in 1963 and 1965. In winning the 1996 tournament at home, South Africa’s racially mixed team seemed to symbolize football’s power to bridge the gaping social and economic inequalities left by apartheid.
In contrast, the Algerian government was unable to capitalize on Algeria’s victory in the 1990 Cup of Nations, as fans celebrated the team’s triumph in Algiers by chanting their support for the opposition Islamic Salvation Front. Political tensions violently disrupted the Cup of Nations in 2010: the Togo team bus was attacked by separatist gunmen as it traveled into the Angolan exclave of Cabinda on its way to the tournament; two team officials and the bus driver were killed in the attack, and the Togolese team withdrew from the 2010 Cup of Nations, which was held with a 15-team field.
Trophy of the Africa Cup of Nations
Throughout the history of the Africa Cup of Nations, three trophies have been awarded to the winners of the competition. The original trophy, made of silver, was the Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem Trophy, named after the first CAF president, Egyptian Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem. As the first winner of three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, Ghana obtained the right to permanently hold the trophy in 1978.
The second trophy was awarded from 1980 to 2000, and was named “Trophy of African Unity” or “African Unity Cup“. It was given to CAF by the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa prior to the 1980 tournament and it was a cylindrical piece with the Olympic rings over a map of the continent engraved on it. It sat on a squared base and had stylized triangular handles. Cameroon won the Unity Cup indefinitely after they became three-time champions in 2000.
In 2001, the third trophy was revealed, a gold-plated cup designed and made in Italy. Cameroon, permanent holders of the previous trophy, were the first nation to be awarded the new trophy after they won the 2002 edition. Egypt won the gold-plated cup indefinitely after they became three-time champions in 2010. Unlike previous winners who would have then taken the trophy home, Egypt was presented with a special full-size replica that they were allowed to keep. The winner of each edition receives a replica whose dimensions are equal to that of the original trophy. CAF give 30 gold medals to the winner, 30 silver medals to the finalist, 30 bronze medals to the team ranked third and 30 diplomas to the team ranked fourth in the final tournament.
|*Finals held in even-numbered years 1968–2012; held in odd-numbered years from 2013.|
Expansion to 24 teams
Under Ahmad Ahmad‘s presidency, there were discussions regarding further changes to the Africa Cup of Nations. In July 2017, two changes were proposed:
- Switch the competition from January to the Northern Hemisphere summer
- expansion from 16 to 24 teams (effective from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations)
On 20 July 2017, the CAF Executive Commission approved the propositions at a meeting in Rabat, Morocco. The prize money awarded to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations winner amounted to $4.5 million. Due to the Covid-19 delay the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, which was slated from 25 to 30 March 2020, were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, hosted by Cameroon, and taking place from 9 January to 6 February 2022.
source Wikipedia and Britannica