What is African Cup of Nations?

Known in french as Coupe d'Afrique des Nations; held every two years, it is the most celebrated and closely followed football tournament in Africa

Founded: 1957
Confederation: CAF
Number of teams: 16

History of African Cup of Nations

African Cup of Nations trophy awarded to the tournament's championThe meeting held in Lisbon including seven delegates from the region laid the foundation for the formation of Confederation of African Football (CAF). The federation's major achievement when it got to office was organizing an international competition for national teams the following year. Hence, the African Cup of Nations is older than the corresponding European competition.

However, this role came with a whole set of challenges including those facing one of the CAF founders, South Africa, relating to the apartheid regime. South Africa was excluded from the inaugural tournament leaving just three nations to compete; Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. They would later return to compete, and host, in the 1992 competition.

Sudan hosted the first tournament but lost to Egypt who advanced to the final. The first final was won by Egypt after defeating Ethiopia 4-0. The three teams were the only ones to play in the first two editions of the nations cup.

New members joining African Cup of Nations

Zaire won the title for the second beating Zambia in 1974The competition continued to draw membership from across the continent. It was won by various nations with certain blocks dominating during given periods. Central African nations had impressive results and achievements in the 70s while six different nations were champions between 1980-90.

The 1974 competition was won by Zaire who held the title for the second time after beating Zambia in the final. This final stands out as it was the only one to be replayed after ending in a draw. Mulamba Ndaye was the top scorer with nine goals, the highest scored in a single edition in the history of the nations cup.

Amid challenges, the competition went on every two years. The 2010 tournament will be recalled for the events that disrupted its progress. The Togolese National team withdrew after their bus was attacked. Gunmen caused the death of the bus driver and two team officials. This did not bring an end to the tournament though, it went on with the remaining 15 nations taking part.

Winners of the contest are awarded the Cup of Nations trophy. This trophy is the third version modeled after the first two were permanently won by Cameroon and Ghana.

Evolution of African Cup of Nations

Ghana captured their 3rd African Cup of Nations title in 1978; the first trophy was awarded permanentlyThe number of participants has changed over the years. The 1998 African Cup of Nations was the first to include 16 teams in the finals. This was a big step forward considering it started off with three teams, which increased with time. Qualifying rounds were introduced in 1968 to accommodate the increased number of member associations. The same format has been used to date.

The first trophy was permanently awarded to Ghana after a successful campaign through the decade saw them record three titles in 1978. This achievement is attributed to the support granted by the leader of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, to the national football team.

The African nations learned to appreciate the sport and initiated steps to develop football by setting up competitive leagues. Professionalism gained approval in 1980 followed by corporate sponsorship in 1984.

 African Cup of Nations qualification and the tournament format

The qualification stage is set in four stages, three preliminary rounds followed by a group stage. Top ranked teams in the region are entered into the group stage, recently it was 21 teams, while other teams have to go through the preliminary round. Defending champions have to go through qualifications as only the host nation is assured of a spot among the 16 teams that advance to the final phase.

At the final tournament, the 16 teams are grouped into 4 groups of four to play a single round robin. The winner and runner up of each group moves to the knockout stages, namely the quarter finals, the semifinals and the final. The tournament is held at the beginning of the year, January and February, in the odd years as from 2013 so as not to coincide with the years when the World Cup is held.

Video: 2015 Afican Cup of Nations tournament format and groupings

African Cup of Nations powerhouse teams

Egypt is an African powerhouse nation winning three consecutive titlesSome African nations have performed exemplary well at the international level. Ivory coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco and Egypt are some of the states that have great footballing history.

A look at Egypt, a nation that won three consecutive titles between 2006 to 2010, gives an ideal basis of how some nations have taken the sport in serious manner. Egypt has won a total of 7 titles in the tournament. But Egypt has not played in the Fifa World Cup, and as some put it, it is the best nation not to feature in the World Cup.

Cameroon is another nation that stands out for it's outstanding displays. The nation is well remembered for defeating Argentina, the defending champions, in the opening match of the World cup in 1990. Cameroon won the 2000 and 2002 nations cup competitions to make it four titles in total. Winning in 2000 saw them being awarded the trophy named the African Unity Cup permanently.

Another team that has risen to the high ranks is Nigeria. They have outweighed other nations at the international stage to establish itself as one of the greatest footballing nations in the region.

African Cup of Nations outstanding performances

Samuel Eto'o is the top goalscorer of African Cup of Nations with 18 goals to his creditFew might have known of Laurent Pokou of Cote Ivoire but he is in the record books for scoring five goals in a single match against Ethiopia. The match ended 6-1 and stands as the largest winning margin in the tournament. Pokou was the leading scorer in 1968 and 1970.

Samuel Eto'o is another footballer that deserves honors for being a reliable player, particularly for his national team. He scored 18 goals for Cameroon and this is the highest number of goals scored by an individual in the African Nations Cup. Eto'o was the tournament's top scorer in two editions, 2006 and 2008.

Generally, the region has produced outstanding talents over the years. Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Nwankwo Kanu, Patrick Mboma and Jay-Jay Okocha are just some of the great talents to emerge from the nations in recent years.

African Cup of Nations top goalscorers

Cameroon Samuel Eto'o 18
Ivory Coast Laurent Pokou 14
Nigeria Rashidi Yekini 13
Egypt Hassan El-Shazly 12
Cameroon Patrick Mboma 11
Egypt Hossam Hassan 11
Ivory Coast Didier Drogba 11
Democratic Republic of Congo Ndaye Mulamba 10
Ivory Coast Joel Tiéhi 10
Ethiopia Mengistu Worku 10
Tunisia Francileudo Santos 10
Zambia Kalusha Bwalya 10
Ivory Coast Abdoulaye Traoré 9