In 1957 there were only three participating nations: Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. South Africa were originally scheduled to compete, but were disqualified due to the apartheid policies of the government then in power. Since then, the tournament has grown greatly, making it necessary to hold a qualifying tournament. The number of participants in the final tournament reached 16 in 1998 (16 teams were to compete in 1996 but Nigeria withdrew, reducing the field to 15), and since then, the format has been unchanged, with the sixteen teams being drawn into four groups of four teams each, with the top two teams of each group advancing to a "knock-out" stage.
Egypt is the most successful nation in the cup's history, winning the tournament a record seven times (including when Egypt was known as the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1971). Ghana and Cameroon have won four titles each. Three different trophies have been awarded during the tournament's history, with Ghana and Cameroon winning the first two versions to keep after each of them won a tournament three times. The current trophy was first awarded in 2002 and with Egypt winning it indefinitely after winning their unprecedented third consecutive title in 2010.
As of 2013, the tournament will switch to being held in odd-numbered years so that it does not clash with the FIFA World Cup.[2
1950s–60s: Early growth of the ANC competitionThe origins of the African Nations Cup date back to June 1956, when the creation of the Confederation of African Football was proposed during the third FIFA congress in Lisbon. There were immediate plans for a continental nations tournament to be held, and in February 1957, the first African Cup of Nations took place in Khartoum, Sudan. There was no qualification for this tournament, the field being made up of the four founding nations of CAF (Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa). South Africa's insistence on selecting only caucasian players for their squad due to that nation's 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 ANC in Cairo with the participation of these same three teams. Host and defending champions Egypt repeated as cup winners, this time downing Sudan.
The field grew to include nine teams for the third ANC 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.
1960s: Ghanaian dominationIn 1963, Ghana made its first appearance as it hosted the event, and won the title after beating Sudan in the final. They repeated that as they became champions two years later in Tunisia—equalling Egypt as two-time winners—with a squad that included only two returning members from the 1963 team.
The 1968 competition's final tournament format expanded to include eight of the 22 teams entered in the preliminary rounds. The qualifying teams were distributed in two groups of four to play single round-robin tournaments, with the top two teams of each group advancing to semi-finals, a system that remained in use for the finals until 1992. The Democratic Republic of Congo won its first title, beating Ghana in the final. Starting with the 1968 tournament, the competition has been regularly held every two years in even numbered years. Côte d'Ivoire forward Laurent Pokou led the 1968 and 1970 tournaments in scoring, with six and eight goals respectively, and his total of 14 goals remained the all-time record until 2008. Play was covered for television for the first time during the 1970 tournament in Sudan, as the hosts lifted the trophy after defeating Ghana—who were playing their fourth consecutive final.
1970s: A decade of championsSix different nations won titles from 1970 to 1980: Sudan, Congo-Brazzaville, Zaire, Morocco, Ghana, and Nigeria. Zaire's second title in the 1974 edition (they won their first as the Democratic Republic of Congo) came after facing Zambia in the final. For the only time to date in the history of the competition, the match had to be replayed as the first contest between the two sides ended in a 2–2 draw after extra time. The final was re-staged two days later with Zaire winning 2–0. Forward Mulamba Ndaye scored all four of Zaire's goals in these two matches: he was also the top scorer of the tournament with nine goals, setting a single-tournament record that remains unmatched. Three months earlier, Zaire had become the first black African nation to qualify to the FIFA World Cup. Morocco won their first title in the 1976 ANC held in Ethiopia and Ghana took its third championship in 1978, becoming the first nation to win three titles. In 1980, Nigeria hosted the event and beat Algeria to capture its first honours.
1980s: Cameroonian and Nigerian dominationGhana's fourth continental title came in the 1982 cup tournament; they beat Algeria in the semi-finals in extra time, and faced host Libya in the final. The match ended in a 1–1 draw after 120 minutes and Ghana won the penalty shootout to become champions. Cameroon won their first title two years later by beating Nigeria and in the 1986 cup they faced Egypt—absent from the final since 1962—with Egypt winning the title on penalty kicks. Cameroon reached its third consecutive final in the 1988 tournament and won their second championship by repeating their 1984 victory over Nigeria. In 1990, Nigeria lost once again as they made their third final appearance in four tournaments, this time falling to Algeria.
1990s: The return of South AfricaThe 1992 Cup of Nations expanded the number of final tournament participants to 12; the teams were divided into four groups of three, with the top two teams of each group advancing to quarter-finals. Ghanaian midfielder Abedi "Pelé" Ayew, who scored three goals, was named the best player of the tournament after his contributions helped Ghana reach the final; he was, however, suspended for that match and Ghana lost to Côte d'Ivoire in a penalty shootout that saw each side make 11 attempts to determine the winner. Côte d'Ivoire set a record for the competition by holding each of their opponents scoreless in the six matches of the final tournament.
The 12-team, three-group format was used again two years later, where hosts Tunisia were humiliated by their first round elimination. Nigeria, who had just qualified to the World Cup for the first time in their history, won the tournament, beating Zambia, who a year before had been struck by disaster when most of their national squad died in a plane crash while traveling to play a 1994 World Cup qualification match. Nigerian forward Rashidi Yekini, who had led the 1992 tournament with four goals, repeated as the top scorer with five goals.
South Africa hosted the 20th ACN competition in 1996, marking their first ever appearance after a decades long ban was lifted with the end of apartheid in the country and a failed attempt to qualify in 1994. The number of final round participants in 1996 was expanded to the current 16, split into four groups. However, the actual number of teams playing in the final was only 15 as Nigeria withdrew from the tournament at the final moment for political reasons. Bafana Bafana won their first title on home soil, defeating Tunisia in the final.
The South Africans would reach the final again two years later in Burkina Faso, but were unable to defend their title, losing to Egypt who claimed their fourth cup.
2000s: Egypt's unprecedented Treble
On 31 January 2010, Egypt set a new African record, not being defeated for 19 consecutive Cup of Nations matches, since a 2–1 loss against Algeria in Tunisia in 2004, and a record 9 consecutive win streak. Egypt also set another record on that day, where it became the first African nation to win three consecutive cups joining Mexico, Argentina, and Iran who won their continent cup 3 times in a row.
FutureAhead of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations several European clubs called for a rethink of the tournament's schedule. As it takes place during the European season, players who are involved miss several matches for their clubs.
In January 2008, FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced that he wanted the tournament to be held in either June or July by 2016, to fit in the international calendar, although this would preclude many countries in central and west Africa from hosting the competition (as these months occur during their wet season).
In May 2010, it was announced that the tournament would be moved to odd-numbered years from 2013. This will mean the tournament will not take place in the same year as the World Cup. It also means there will be two tournaments within twelve months in January 2012 (co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea) and January 2013 (hosted by South Africa).
On 29 January 2011, Morocco won the bid to host the 2015 edition and Libya won the right to host the 2013 tournament. But due to the 2011 Libyan civil war, Libya and South Africa traded years with South Africa hosting in 2013 and Libya hosting in 2017.
TrophyThroughout the history of the Nations Cup, 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 Nations Cup tournaments, Ghana obtained the right to permanently hold the trophy in 1978.
The second trophy was awarded from 1980 to 2000, and it was named "Trophy of African Unity"or "African Unity Cup".It was given by the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa to the CAF 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.