The Africa Cup of Nations, also known as the African Nations Cup and the African Cup of Nations, is the most prestigious football (soccer) competition in the continent. Athletes from across Africa compete in this tournament, which is organized by the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF). The competition’s format has evolved over time, with the number of participating teams increasing from three in 1957 to twenty-four in 2019, following several expansions. The increase in participation also resulted in the introduction of qualifying rounds in 1968, the same year that the CAF decided to hold the tournament on a biennial basis.
The first Africa Cup of Nations was held in Khartoum, Sudan, in February 1957, and Egypt won the tournament by defeating the host nation in the final to claim the Abdel Aziz Abdallah Salem Trophy, which was named after its donor, an Egyptian who served as the organization’s first president. Ghana became the first country to win the tournament three times in 1978, and the trophy was permanently awarded to the country at that time. The next trophy, known as the African Unity Cup, was awarded permanently to Cameroon in 2000 after the team won its third championship since 1978 and became the first to do so. In 2002, a new trophy, the Cup of Nations, was introduced to the sporting world.
The competition has served as a platform for the display of the abilities of African players. Africa’s attention was captured by the attacking and entertaining style of play of the tournament in the 1950s and 1960s, drawing the attention of European talent scouting agents and journalists to the tournament. When Ethiopian Ydnekachew Tessema served as president of the Confederation of African Football from 1972 until his death in 1987, the cup gained greater international recognition. It was legalized in 1980, and corporate sponsorships were accepted in 1984. Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon, who holds the record for the 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 most memorable players.
Beyond the confines of the field of play, the Cup of Nations has served as a forum for the expression of political values and ideas across borders. Many independent African governments, having inherited colonial institutions devoid of indigenous symbols of national identity, have invested significant economic and political capital in national football teams in order to elicit pride and foster unity among their diverse populations. Examples include Ghana’s victories in the World Cup in 1963 and 1965, which were made possible by the enthusiastic support of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. With their victory in the 1996 World Cup in their home country, South Africa’s racially mixed team appeared to symbolize football’s ability to bridge the gaps in social and economic inequalities left by apartheid. The Algerian government, on the other hand, was unable to capitalize on the country’s victory in the 1990 Cup of Nations, as fans in Algiers celebrated the team’s victory by chanting their support for the opposition Islamic Salvation Front (Front de la Salvation Islamique). A bus carrying the Togo team was ambushed by separatist gunmen as it traveled through the Angolan exclave of Cabinda on its way to the tournament in 2010. Two team officials and the bus driver were killed in the attack, which forced the Togolese team to withdraw from that year’s Cup of Nations, which featured a 15-team roster..
The table provides a list of Africa Cup of Nations winners.