AFCON History: From 3 nations in Sudan to 24 in Egypt [Part 1]

The Africa Cup of Nations will be contested by a record 24 teams in Egypt this month, up from just three when the tournament debuted 62 years ago.

There were supposed to be four nations at the inaugural 1957 championship in Sudan, but South Africa refused to field a multiracial team and were disqualified.

Egypt became the first African champions after winning just two games – to succeed in 2019 a team must play seven matches.

Former African Footballer of the Year and Mali forward Frederic Kanoute has mixed views about a 33 percent increase in the number of title hopefuls.

“On the one hand, it is good for more nations to take part and have a chance to show their skills to Africa and the world,” he told reporters during a recent visit to Zambia.

“But the level of competition could drop a little bit with nearly half the football nations of Africa taking part. We have to see how it goes.”

Here, we trace the growth of the Cup of Nations from a tournament that attracted little interest even in Africa to one drawing worldwide TV audiences.

The 32nd Africa Cup of Nations will be staged in Egypt from June 21-July 19, with an expanded field of 24 teams vying for the coveted trophy.

Played every two years, the tournament has a long and rich history, older even than the European Championships, and is the jewel in the African football crown.

In the second of a three-part series over the coming days, looks back at all past finals, in this case from 1978 to 1996.


Champions: Ghana

Ghana claimed their third title on home soil with a 2-0 victory over Uganda in the final, and The Cranes would have to wait another 29 years before they appeared at the continental showpiece again.

Opoku Afriyie bagged both goals for the Black Stars in the decider, while Nigeria took third place after their bronze-medal match against Tunisia was abandoned at 1-1.

The Tunisians walked off the pitch after they disputed a goal scored by the Super Eagles in the 42nd minute and refused to play on. The game was awarded 2-0 to Nigeria and Tunisia banned from CAF competitions for two years.


Champions: Nigeria

Nigeria claimed their first continental title as they used home ground to their advantage to overwhelm Algeria 3-0 in the final, with Segun Odegbami grabbing a brace of goals in the gold medal match.

Nigeria had beaten Morocco 1-0 in the semifinals, while Algeria edged Egypt on penalties in a strong competition for North African sides.

Morocco then took the bronze medal as they beat the Egyptians 2-0 in the third-place playoff, Khalid Labied with both goals.

This was the one and only previous tournament appearance for Tanzania, who return to the stage in 2019.


Champions: Ghana

Ghana’s early dominance of the Nations Cup continued as they claimed a fourth title, this time edging hosts and debutants Libya 7-6 on penalties in the final after they had played to a 1-1 draw in Tripoli.

It was also the last time they Black Stars were champions, a long wait for their legion of fans as they head into the 2019 competition.

Zambia claimed the bronze with a 2-0 win over Algeria, who had lost again to Ghana in the semifinals.


Champions: Cameroon

Cameroon claimed their first continental title when they beat Nigeria 3-1 in the decider in Abidjan, with just the beginnings of the team that would compete so well at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Algeria defeated Egypt 3-1 in the bronze medal match as they continued to be among the leading teams, without being able to claim gold.

Malawi appeared at the finals for the first time, but came away with just a single point from their three games.


Champions: Egypt

Egypt were awarded hosting rights and used that to their advantage to claim the title, their third continental success in all.

They scraped into the semifinals with a win over debutants Mozambique in their final fixture, but went on to defeat Morocco 1-0 in the semis and then edge defending champions Cameroon 5-4 in a penalty shootout after the decider had ended 0-0.

Ivory Coast finished third as they beat Morocco 3-2 in the bronze-medal match.

The legendary Roger Milla finished top-scorer in the competition with four goals.


Champions: Cameroon

Cameroon’s rise in the 1980s continued as they claimed a third final place in a row and won a second title in three attempts, this time in Morocco.

They beat Morocco 1-0 in the semifinals and then claimed a single goal success in the final as Emmanuel Kundé struck a 55th minute penalty.

The third-place playoff between hosts Morocco and Algeria finished 1-1, with the latter going on to a 4-3 penalty shootout success.


Champions: Algeria

Algeria’s run of near-misses in the Nations Cup finally came to an end as they lifted the trophy on home soil when they defeated luckless Nigeria 1-0 in the final.

Chérif Oudjani scored the only goal of the game in the first half as a Rabah Madjer-inspired Algeria claimed victory in front of more than 105 000 people at the Stade 5 Juillet 1962 in Algiers.

Zambia took home the bronze medal as they beat Senegal 1-0 in the third-place playoff.


Champions: Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast became champions for the first time after what would be one of the most epic penalty shootouts in football history.

Their final against Ghana had ended 0-0, but that was just the start of the dramas as they eventually triumphed 11-10 in the shootout as Anthony Baffoe missed the decisive kick.

Nigeria took the bronze as Rashidi Yekini scored late on to claim a 2-1 victory over Cameroon.

The competition was expanded to 12 teams for the first time.


Champions: Nigeria

Nigeria were just about at the peak of their powers and would go on to have a successful World Cup in the United States, but before that lifted the African crown.

They came up against a Zambian side rebuilt after 18 players were tragically killed in an aircraft accident off the coast of Gabon less than a year earlier.

Zambia took an early lead in the final, but Emmanuel Amunike’s brace of goals took the Super Eagles to their triumph.

Ivory Coast defeated Mali 3-1 to finish third.


Champions: South Africa

Debutants South Africa lifted the trophy on home soil, defeating Tunisia 2-0 in the final thanks to a brace of goals from Mark Williams.

It was a deserving triumph after they had brushed aside Ghana 3-0 in the semifinals, though Nigeria’s boycott of the tournament for political reasons has long cast a small shadow over the achievement.

Zambia claimed the bronze medal when they beat the Ghanaians 1-0 in the third-place playoff.

The competition was due to have 16 sides, but ended up with 15 following the withdrawal of Nigeria.


Champions: Egypt

Egypt claimed their fourth title as they defeated South Africa 2-0 in the final to deny Bafana Bafana back-to-back triumphs.

Hossam Hassan (Egypt) and a youthful Benni McCarthy (South Africa) top-scored with seven goals each in what was a high-scoring tournament that averaged almost three goals per game having finally been expanded to 16 teams.

DR Congo claimed the bronze medal after a 4-1 penalty shootout victory over Burkina Faso as the sides played to a thrilling 4-4 draw in the third-place playoff.