Story of Africa Cup of Nations

Daily News Egypt
17 Min Read

Sudanese Abdel Halim Mohamed proposed the idea of holding the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) whose first edition kicked off in 1956 with the participation of three teams. AFCON is one of the major continental championships.

On 8 June 1956, Egyptians Abdel Aziz Salem, the first president of the African Union, met with the Sudanese Abdel Rahim Shaddad, Badawi Mohamed, Abdel Halim Mohamed, and South African William Phil at the Avenida Hotel in Lisbon, capital of Portugal, on the side-lines of the third International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) congress. They discussed the idea of a continental association that oversees the affairs of football in Africa and launching a continental championship. After eight weeks, the first founding assembly was held. Two days later, a match between Egypt and Sudan was held in Khartoum, announcing the beginning of Africs Cup of Nations on 10 February 1957. There was no qualification for this tournament, being 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 their squad due to its apartheid policy led to its disqualification, and as a consequence Ethiopia were 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 AFCON in Cairo with the participation of the same three teams. Host and defending champions Egypt again won, after defeating Sudan.

The competition grew to include nine teams for the third AFCON in 1962 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 it was Ethiopia that emerged as victors, after first beating Tunisia and then downing Egypt in extra time.

Championship system

The championship was since held several times. In the 1960s, it was random. It was held annually, and sometimes every two or three years. The sixth edition was held in Ethiopia in 1968. The championship was then decided to be held every two years in different African countries.

In 1965, the CAF imposed a rule allowing only two professional footballers playing outside their nations to play for their national teams, driven by the will to improve the African football. The CAF later cancelled that rule in 1982, when it noticed that African footballer prefer to play for European teams.

The CAF has increase finally the number of participating teams in AFCON from 16 to 24 teams after a meeting held on Thursday 20 July 2017 in Rabat. At the same meeting, it decided to hold the tournament in June and July instead of January and February.

Championship Trophy

Throughout the history of the African Cup of Nations, three different 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 African 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, in an unprecedented achievement by winning three consecutive continental titles. Unlike previous winners who would have then taken the trophy home, Egypt were presented with a special full size replica that they were allowed to keep. First and second time winners usually get a smaller sized replica for their trophy cabinets.

First edition in 1957

After the approval of the FIFA on the establishment of the CAF, the English nominee for FIFA presidency, Arthur Drewry, put a main condition that the CAF includes a representative from South Africa.

The Egyptian, Sudanese, and Ethiopian members were surprised by the request because the representative of South Africa was already existing with them and none of them had the desire to rule him out of the confederation.

Nor they were aware of the political dimensions of the request. They all agreed to meet in Khartoum in February 1957. In the presence of Drewry, after winning the FIFA presidency, the first AFCON was launched with the participation of Sudan (host), Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa.

On 8 February 1057, the founding assembly was held in the Grand Hotel in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. The meeting included Abdel Aziz Salem, Youssef Mohamed, Mohamed Latif from Egypt, Abdel Halim Mohamed, Abdel Rahim Shaddad, Badawi Mohamed Ali from Sudan, Tessima from Ethiopia and Phil from South Africa.

Abdul Aziz Salim was elected President of the CAF, as well as Abdel Halim Mohamed and Tessima of Ethiopia and Phil as members, while Youssef Mohamed as secretary-general of the CAF.

Before the start of the African Championship, a problem erupted in Khartoum. Every delegate submitted their national teams lists. All were surprised by South Africa representative giving two different squads, one composed of white players and another of black players. He attached a recommendation favouring the white squad.

The officials, however, objected strongly the idea and stressed the need for one squad that represent all races in South Africa. Phil stressed the exclusion of the South Africa given the racism there, as there were four federations in South Africa, one for white, a second for blacks, a third for people of colour, and a fourth for Indians.

At its first meeting, the CAF board did not hesitate to take a decisive decision to expel South Africa from the first tournament as well as the membership of CAF.

The first draw put Sudan, the host country, in a tough game against Egypt in the opening match, then Ethiopia with South Africa.

The two games should have been held in Khartoum and the two winners clash in the final.

Following South Africa’s expulsion, Ethiopia secured a place in the final and Tesema rejected a Sudanese proposal to re-draw to avoid a heavy confrontation between Egypt and Sudan.

Tesema stressed the need to abide by the FIFA rules that prevent a re-draw if any team withdraws or got expelled.

This edition had two games with seven goals scored, making it the shortest tournament. Egypt won the title after beating Sudan 2-1 in the opening game then swept Ethiopia 4-0.

Egypt’s Mohamed Diab Al-Attar is the only player in AFCON history to score four goals in the final. The record still stands.

Second edition in 1959

The second edition was held in 1959 in Egypt. The tournament include one group: Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopian. The tournament was held from 22 to 29 May 1959 using a league system.

The opening game was between Egypt and Ethiopia and the Pharaohs won 4-0, with Mahmoud El Gohary scoring a hat-trick and Mimi Sherbini scored one goal.

Egypt’s army leader Abdul Hakim Amer attended the match that was held at Al-Ahly Stadium.

In the second game, Sudan beat Ethiopia 1-0, qualifying to the final against the Pharaohs.

Sudan failed to avenge their loss in the first edition and lost again to Egypt 2-1.

The Egyptian team in the final match was composed of seven players from Al-Ahly SC and four players from Zamalek SC. The final match was officiated by the Yugoslavian referee Gisibatich.

Third edition in 1962

The 1962 AFCON was the third edition, changing from a small three-nation competition to a large continental tournament similar to that of Europe at the time.

The number of participating teams increased, which required holding qualifiers which included nine teams. Ethiopia hosted the tournament and managed to win the title for the first time in its history at the expense of the United Arab Republic (Egypt).

The tournament was held from 14 to 21 January. Four countries competed in this edition, including Uganda, Ethiopia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Republic (Egypt). This tournament witnessed the highest average rate of goals in AFCON history.

The opening match saw Ethiopia beat Tunisia 4-2. Egypt beat Uganda in the second game 2-1. The winners qualified for the final and the losers competed for the third position.

In the final, Ethiopia defeated Egypt 4-2, to achieve their first title and stop the victories tally of the Pharaohs. Tunisia won the third place after beating Uganda 3-0.

The final match at the Haile Selassie Stadium in Addis Ababa was officiated by Ugandan referee Wilson Brooks.

The match was held in the presence of 30,000 spectators in the stadium. It was one of the most important games in the history of Ethiopia in the presence of Emperor Haile Selassie, as they won the continental title for the first time.

Fourth edition in 1963

The 1963 AFCON was the fourth edition. For the third consecutive time, the hosts won the African Cup. The format changed: two groups of three teams each, the winners played the final, the runners-up could only play Third Place final. The final in Accra on 1 December saw the hosts winning 3-0 on Sudan, after the first half finished 00.

This tournament, and the previous one, are the only Africa Cup of Nations tournaments with more than four goals-per-game average.

Six countries participated at the time: Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan, Tunisia, and Egypt.

The tournament was held from November 24 to 1 December 1963. The tournament matches were played at Accra Sports Stadium and Kumasi Sports Stadium.

The first group included Ghana, Ethiopia, and Tunisia, while the second group was composed of Sudan, Egypt, and Nigeria.

Four teams qualified to the next round: Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Sudan. Egypt played with Ethiopia and won 3-0 to rank third.

Fifth edition in 1965

The 1965 AFCON was the fifth edition. It was hosted by Tunisia. Just like in 1963, the field of six teams was split into two groups of three. Ghana retained its title, beating Tunisia in the final 32.

Tunisia hosted the competition from 12 to 21 November 1965. Egypt and Sudan were absent for the first time since 1957. Egypt was absent for political reasons with Tunisia.

Six teams, including Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, and Tunisia, were placed in two groups. The first composed of Tunisia, Senegal, and Ethiopia, while the second of Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Congo.

Tunisia and Senegal equalized in the number of points, a draw was held, and the Carthage Eagles qualified as top of the first group, while Ghana qualified as top of the second group with four points.

In the third-place match, Cote d’Ivoire beat Senegal 1-0. On 21 November 1965, Ghana won the title after beating Tunisia 3-2 in the extra time. The match was officiated by the Algerian referee Abdelaziz Shakaymi.

Sixth edition in 1968

The 1968 AFCON was the sixth edition championship. Ethiopia hosted the contest for the second time, from 12 to 21 January 1968. The competition was expanded to include eight teams, divided into two groups of four.

Algeria, Congo, DR Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, and Uganda participated. Egypt missed the tournament for the second time as they withdrew after the 1967 war.

The teams were divided into two groups, the first group included Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria, and Uganda.

Ethiopia lead the group with six points from three victories, followed by Cote d’Ivoire in second place with four points. Both teams qualified to the next round.

Ghana, DR Congo, Congo, and Senegal were in the second group. Ghana lead the group with five points collected from two wins and one draw, while DR Congo came in second with four points from two victories and one loss. Both teams qualified.

In the semi-final, Ethiopia lost to DR Congo 3-2. In the second game, Ghana beat Cote d’Ivoire 4-3.

The third game saw Cote d’Ivoire won over Ethiopia 1-0. In the final match on 21 January 1968, DR Congo beat Ghana 1-0 at the Haile Selassie Stadium in Addis Ababa. The match referee was officiated by the Egyptian Mohamed Diab, who was the top scorer and best player in the first AFCON edition in 1957.

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