History of the African Cup of Nations
Ebo Quansah in Accra
It is that time again, when all Africa vibrates to the sounds of association football. The 28th Orange African Cup of Nations kicks-off in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon this week-end. New comers Equatorial Guinea, ranked 151 in the world, will do battle with Libya in a match that will add to the drama of the championship.
On paper, the two sides are not likely to contest the final of finals in three weeks time. Equatorial Guinea are virtually new to association football. As a matter of fact, that country never had any facilities for serious football until 2003. They are taking to the field with a mixture of home-grown players and rented stars, in the sense that their key players had just completed nationality switches from various nations.
The fondest memory most Ghanaians have of Equatorial Guinea is that it is from one of its island cities, Fernando Po, that Tetteh Quarshie of blessed memory brought cocoa beans to plant in Ghana, and laid the foundation stone for what has sustained this nation’s economy all these years.
One interesting thing about the opening match tomorrow is that the opponent, Libya, now calling its national team, the Mediterranean Knights, have not played much football in the year, following the outbreak of the civil war that ousted military dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The Libyans are in their third continental assignment, having hosted the championship and ending up as the runners-up to Ghana in that penalty shoot-out in Tripoli in 1982.
After what is expected to be a mild opening match, the big boys take the stage with what is expected to be an exhilarating encounter between the Teranga Lions of Senegal and Chipopolo of Zambia.
What really is the African Cup of Nations? How did it come about, and why does it excite Africa so much?
The idea to stage a continental championship originated from a chance meeting of representatives of the four independent African nations at the time, who had been invited to participate in the 1956 congress of the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital.
The four nations, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and South Africa, met at the Hotel Avenida in Lisbon, and agreed to begin a continental championship along the lines of the European Cup. Following the initial agreement, a follow-up meeting was held in Egypt, where the modalities for the first African Cup of Nations hosted by Sudan, were worked out.
The championship was open to only independent African nations. Consequently, the four self-ruled nations – Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and South Africa – gathered in Khartoum for the maiden championship. However, South Africa were barred from taking part in the competition, when the then apartheid nation refused to field a multi-racial team, and decided to parade an all-while squad.
The Pharaohs of Egypt thrashed Ethiopia 4-0 in the final to take home the Abdel Aziz Trophy, donated by the first Secretary-General of the Confederation of African Football. In 1959, Egypt hosted the African Cup of Nations in Cairo. Once again, South Africa refused to field a multi-racial team, and were barred until they such a time that they would obey the command of the founding fathers.
Egypt met Sudan in the final and won 2-1. In 1961, Egypt took the trophy to Addis Ababa for the third Cup of Nations Championship, and were thrashed 4-2 by the host nation. Ethiopia were the new lords of African football.
Two years later, the emerging football nation on the West Coast of Africa, which had renamed its national team, the Black Stars on the attainment of republican status to “reflect the aspirations of the black race, invited the best in Africa to the centre of the earth.
Five nations, including the host, arrived for the fourth African Cup of Nations in Ghana, where the championships were held in Accra and Kumasi. Host nation Ghana, Tunisia and Ethiopia were based in Accra, while Sudan, Egypt and new entrants Nigeria, pitched camp in Kumasi. Ghana romped to the finals with Sudan, and thrashed the Nile Crocodiles 3-0. The late Edward Acquah scored twice.
As African champions, the Black Stars took a very young team to Tunisia for the defence of the trophy, and fought the final with Tunisia. The match was the first in the history of the championship that went into extra time The Black Stars defeated the host 2-1 in a dramatic extra time win, to record the second triumph in continental soccer for the famous Black Stars of Ghana.
In a decade that could be said to belong to the Black Stars of Ghana, in terms of the team’s dominance of the African game, the Black Stars stormed into the finals of finals in 1968 and 1970. In 1968, after accounting for Congo Kinshasa (later to be called Zaire and Congo DR) 2-1 in the group stages, the Black Stars lost the final of finals 1-0. It was a highly explosive and controversial match, with several strange decisions against the Black Stars.
In 1970, the Black Stars encountered host nation Sudan in the final of finals, and lost 1-0. It was a very contentious final. The Black Stars refused to collect their silver medals, citing biased officiating and intimidation from the crowd.
Sudan’s military dictator, General Nimery, ordered the Ghanaian contingent to leave his country on the next available plane. To date, the 1970 incident marked the only time in association football, when a whole team had been deported.
The 1970 debacle brought Ghana’s dominance in African football to a temporary halt. The Black Stars did not qualify in 1972, 1974, and again in 1976. In 1972, Congo Brazzaville surprised most pundits by taking the trophy in Cameroon. The Leopards of Zaire defeated Zambia 2-0 in a replay in Cairo in 1974, after the final match had ended 2-2.
After missing out on three successive occasions, the Black Stars of Ghana hosted the rest of Africa in Accra and Kumasi in 1978, and defeated Uganda 2-0 in the final to claim the Abdel Aziz Trophy for good.
Unfortunately, the Black Stars failed to make it out of the group stages when they went to Nigeria in their quest to win the new African Unity Cup. The then Green Eagles of Nigeria stormed to their first continental triumph in 1980, playing to a sell-out crowd in Lagos, against Algeria.
Ghana returned to winning ways in Libya, when the Black Stars stopped the hearts of Libyans with a 7-6 win on penalties, after a 1-1 drawn game, after extra time. After the triumph in Libya, the Black Stars lost their way until 10 years later, when they contested the final of finals with Cote d’Ivoire. The Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire recorded their first and only African championship win, with a marathon 11-10 on penalties victory in Dakar.
Before then, Cameroon accounted for Nigeria in Abidjan 3-1, to become African champions for the first time. In 1986, when Egypt hosted Africa on the banks of the Nile, the Pharaohs defeated the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon 5-4 on penalties.
Cameroon added to the solitary win in 1984, by recording a 1-0 triumph once more, over the Eagles of Nigeria in the championship staged in Morocco. Algeria made good their slogan of host and win in 1990, defeating Nigeria 1-0. Nigeria returned to the winning ways in 1994, by reclaiming the African Unity Cup, at the expense of Zambia in Tunis, in 1994.
In 1996, South Africa, just emerging as a multi-racial society after long years of apartheid, and cheered on by anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela, hosted the championship and defeated Tunisia 2-0 in the final. In 1998, Egypt beat South Africa 2-0 in the final hosted by Burkina Faso before Cameroon accounted for Nigeria in the first joint hosting, featuring Ghana and Nigeria, in the year 2000. The Indomitable Lions scrapped through 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw in Abuja.
Two years after the Cameroonian triumph, the Indomitable Lions were victors once more over Senegal in the 2002 championship in the desert heat of Mali. In 2004, Tunisia accounted for Morocco in Tunis, while Egypt claimed their fourth winners’ medal at home, with victory over Cote d’Ivoire. Egypt again, claimed the top spot with a lone goal victory over Cameroon in Accra in 2008, before defeating Ghana 1-0 in the 2010 championship hosted by Angola.
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