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AFCON: A brief history

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The CAF Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), officially French: Coupe d’Afrique des Nations (CAN) is the main international men’s association football competition in Africa.

It is sanctioned by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and was first held in 1957. Since 1968, it has been held every two years, switching to odd-numbered years in 2013.

Algeria is the current Cup champion. In the first tournament in 1957, there were only three participating nations: Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. South Africa was originally scheduled to join
but was disqualified due to the apartheid policies of the government then in power. Since then, the tournament has expanded 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 the same happened with Togo’s withdrawal in 2010), and until 2017, the format had been unchanged, with the 16 teams being drawn into four groups of four teams each, with the top two teams of each group advancing to a “knock-out” stage. On 20 July 2017, the Africa Cup of Nations was moved from January to June and expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

Egypt is the most successful nation in the cup’s history, winning the tournament seven times (including in 1959, when Egypt was united with Syria as the United Arab Republic).

Three 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. Egypt won an unprecedented three consecutive titles in 2006, 2008, and 2010.

In 2013, the tournament format was switched to being held in odd-numbered years so as not to clash with the FIFA World Cup.

THE ORIGIN

The origin of the African Nations Cup dates from 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 tournament to be held and, in February 1957, the first Africa Cup of Nations was held in Khartoum, Sudan.

There was no qualification for this tournament, the field 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 its squad due to its apartheid policy led to its disqualification, and as a consequence, Ethiopia was 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 the same three teams. Host and defending champions Egypt again won, after defeating Sudan.

The field grew to include nine teams for the third ANC in 1961 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 the Ethiopia team emerged as victors, first beating Tunisia and then downing Egypt in extra time.

TROPHY

Throughout the history of the Africa Cup of Nations, three 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 Africa 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. Unlike previous winners who would have then taken the trophy home, Egypt was presented with a special full-size replica that they were allowed to keep.

The winner of each edition receives a replica whose dimensions are equal to that of the original trophy.

MEDALS

CAF gives 30 gold medals to the winner, 30 silver medals to the finalist, 30 bronze medals to the team ranked third and 30 diplomas to the team ranked fourth in the final tournament.

PRIZE MONEY

The Confederation of African Football have increased the prize money for teams participating in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

A total of $1.850 million was added to the prize money from the quarter-final stage to the final.

The new prize money for eventual champions of the competition is $5 million – a $500,000 increase from the previous prize in the 2019 edition.

The runner-up will get $2.75 million while the semi-finalists and quarter-finalists will take home $2.2 million and $1.175 million respectively.

Algeria is the defending Afcon champions after lifting the trophy in the 2019 edition in Egypt.

Earlier on Friday 7th January 2022, CAF also confirmed that the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will be used in all 52 matches at the 2021 Afcon in Cameroon. In 2019, VAR was only available from the quarter-finals to the final.

For the tournament, 63 match officials will be on parade – 24 referees, 31 assistant referees and eight video assistant referees have been drawn from 36 countries, with two referees from CONCAF.

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