Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The 2017 Africa Nations Cup finals will be staged in Gabon from January 14 to February 5‚ about 60 years after the continental showpiece was first played as a three-team competition that featured only Egypt‚ Sudan and Ethiopia.

The competition is older even‚ by three years‚ than the European Championships‚ but is given little of the same gravitas as enjoyed by that tournament.

SA were originally the fourth team slated to take part in the inaugural Nations Cup in 1957‚ but were expelled from the newly formed Confederation of African Football due to apartheid and would not feature for almost 40 years.

The draw had already been made for the semifinals and Ethiopia‚ due to play SA‚ were given a walkover into the final.

There they met Egypt‚ who beat host nation Sudan 2-1 and The Pharaohs kept up their form to thump the Ethiopians 4-0 in the decider and earn the title of inaugural champions.

By the time the tournament was played again two years later‚ Egypt was now known as the United Arab Republic‚ such was the changing landscape of African nations at the time.

The same three teams participated‚ this time in a round-robin format‚ with The Pharaohs winning both their matches to claim a second successive title.

Nine teams entered the next event in 1962 and for the first time it meant a qualification tournament was played‚ as only four could progress to the finals in Ethiopia.

The hosts were joined by the defending champions United Arab Republic (Egypt)‚ Uganda and Tunisia‚ with the Ethiopians gaining some revenge to come out on top.

By 1963 the field at the finals had grown and Ghana embarked on a period of dominance as they won four of the next 10 tournaments.

But their last win came in 1982‚ meaning they have had a 35-year wait for their next title that they hope will be ended in Libreville on February 5.

The Ghanaians have been losing finalists in 1992‚ 2010 and 2015. Sudan claimed their one and only trophy win in 1970‚ while Congo-Brazzaville did likewise in 1972.

Neighbours the Democratic Republic of the Congo‚ who previously went by the name of Zaire‚ had success in 1968
and 1974.

Nigeria won their first of three titles in 1980‚ before repeating the triumph in 1994 and then again with a surprising win in 2013 as their young side‚ led by the late Stephen Keshi‚ defied expectations to go all the way (in the tournament)

Cameroon’s rise to power on the continent came in the 1980s when they won the Nations Cup in 1984 and 1988‚ before another two further successes in 2000 and 2002.

Côte d’Ivoire have had some recent heartache‚ but also the sweet taste of victory.

They go into the Gabon tournament as holders after winning two years ago in Equatorial Guinea to go with a 1992 triumph.

But their "golden generation" that contained the likes of Didier Drogba‚ Boubacar Barry‚ Kolo Toure and Didier Zakora were also losing finalists in 2006 and 2012‚ never quite managing to reach their full potential.

The Ivorians’ victory 25 years ago over Ghana was among the more remarkable finals played‚ despite it finishing 0-0 in Senegal. The game went to penalties and amid unbelievable tension‚ The Elephants triumphed 11-10 in the shoot-out.

They were beaten on penalties by Zambia five years ago in what was perhaps the biggest shock final defeat.

Zambia’s victorious coach in that decider was Herve Renard‚ who would go on to lead the Ivorians to the title in 2015.

SA’s finest moment came in the very first finals they played in‚ with Neil Tovey leading the side to the title with a 2-0 victory over Tunisia in the decider‚ much to the delight
of a jubilant former president Nelson Mandela.

Other winners of the trophy are Morocco (1976)‚ Algeria (1990) and Tunisia (2004)‚ making it a fairly exclusive group of just 14 countries to have won the title in the previous 30 installments of the competition.

TMG Digital

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