Most memorable games in African Nations Cup history

With the 2017 African Nations Cup set to begin this Saturday in Gabon, we look at 10 of the tournament’s most memorable games.

10. Egypt 4-0 Ethiopia, 1957

Let’s start at the beginning or, more specifically, the first final. The first Africa Cup of Nations was to be held in Egypt and for only three games; at least, it was supposed to. Due to the Suez Crisis it was moved to Sudan, with South Africa disqualified because of Apartheid. Thus, Ethiopia were awarded a walkover into the final but possibly wished they hadn’t bothered because Egypt - more specifically centre-forward Ad-Diba - were waiting. He opened the scoring after two minutes, got another five minutes later and added two more to complete a 4-0 win and take the first title. “Those were unforgettable matches,” Ad-Diba said in an interview in 2001. “The success of this championship encouraged the African federation to organise a tournament on a biennial basis.”

9. Ghana 3-0 Sudan, 1963

Egypt dominated the early years of the Cup of Nations, but in 1963 they failed to reach the final for the first time, competing as the United Arab Republic given a brief union with Syria. That meant Ghana and Sudan faced each other for the crown and while the first half of the final was cagey, it leapt into life after the break. Ghana, a football nation that has a tricky relationship and history with penalties, nevertheless converted the first goal from the spot: so the story goes, captain Aggrey Fyn scored after striker Edward Acquah said to him: “Aren’t you afraid of taking Ghana’s penalty for me?” Acquah got a brace to seal the victory and Ghana were champions for the first time.

Neil Tovey lifts the 1996 trophy with Nelson Mandela looking on
Neil Tovey lifts the 1996 trophy with Nelson Mandela looking on

8. South Africa 2-0 Tunisia, 1996

The 1995 Rugby World Cup is often seen as the great unifying event of post-Apartheid sport in South Africa but, a year later, the nation’s football team produced their own moment. Playing in their first ever Cup of Nations, South Africa hosted the tournament but Nigeria, who would go on to win Olympic gold that year, surprised everyone by pulling out at the last moment. With an open field, South Africa finished top of their group and then made it through to an emotional final in Johannesburg against Tunisia. With 25 minutes remaining, Mark Williams came on for Phil Masinga; within nine minutes, he’d scored the two goals that would win the trophy, which was raised by Neil Tovey, the first white captain to do so. As an aside, Williams would go on to participate in the South African version of Strictly Come Dancing. “As a player, I have used my feet all my life to make a living,” he said.

7. Egypt 1-0 Ghana, 2010

It’s a little curious that Egypt dominated the Cup of Nations in the late 2000s, winning in 2006, 2008 and 2010, but they made little impact on the world stage: despite their continental hat-trick, they didn’t even qualify for neither the 2006 nor the 2010 World Cups. Still, this trio means they must be regarded as among the greatest teams Africa has ever produced, a treble completed in 2010 when they beat Ghana in the final. A goal from substitute Mohamed Gedo, which made him the tournament’s top scorer, was enough to claim the trophy, lifted by captain Ahmed Hassan. That was Egypt’s seventh crown, a record: Hassan alone has as many as the next closest challengers, Ghana and Cameroon, with four.

6. Zambia 0-0 Ivory Coast (Zambia won on penalties), 2012

It was touch and go whether Zambia would make it out of their group in 2012. But partly thanks to a calamitous tournament by Senegal, they did and they would be underdogs all the way to the final. Ivory Coast were destined to win their first tournament since 1992 as a golden generation of Didier Drogba, Gervinho and the Toures, Kolo and Yaya, finally looked set to succeed, but one fairytale was usurped by another. The final was an unbearably tense encounter but remained goalless and went to a penalty shootout. Zambia missed one but Ivory Coast sent two astray. Led by manager Herve Renard in his pristine white shirts, the Zambians prevailed and dedicated their win to the team of 1993, killed in an air crash just miles from the stadium in Libreville. The sight of Renard carrying injured defender Joseph Musonda to join in the celebrations was the enduring image of the tournament, perhaps even the footballing year.

5. Cameroon 2-2 Nigeria (Cameroon won on penalties), 2000

The Cup of Nations has seen dynasties: there was Egypt in the early years, Ghana in the 1960s, and Cameroon at the turn of this century. Cameroon won two cups in a row (both on penalties) but while the second final was a staid affair, the first was a frantic, intense and controversial encounter against Nigeria. Cameroon went 2-0 up in the first-half through Samuel Eto’o and Patrick M’Boma, only to be pegged back not long after half-time, one goal coming brilliantly from Jay-Jay Okocha. No more goals meant a penalty shoot-out and after Kanu missed, Nigeria looked in trouble, particularly when Victor Ikpeba’s effort was ruled out after hitting the bar and bouncing back into play. Yet replays showed that Ikpeba’s effort had actually crossed the line and when the shootout eventually ended in Cameroon’s favour, Nigeria fans invaded the pitch and were repelled by tear gas and riot police.

4. Ghana 3-2 Tunisia, 1965

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, Ghana were known by some as the “Brazil of Africa” – and with good reason: they reached four finals in a row, winning two of them, the second coming in 1965. Thanks in large part to Osei Kofi, a player dubbed the “One Man Symphony Orchestra” for his ability to carry the team, Ghana strolled through to the final to face hosts Tunisia. Ghana took the lead, only for Tunisia to score twice either side of half-time before Kofi popped up with a late equaliser. That took the game into extra-time, when Frank Odoi grabbed the winner.

Ivory Coast's 'Golden Generation' lifts the trophy in 2015
Ivory Coast’s ‘Golden Generation’ lifts the trophy in 2015

3. Ivory Coast 0-0 Ghana (Ivory Coast won on penalties), 2015

The actual game wasn’t much to get excited about: as many finals are these days, it was 120 minutes of goalless football that not many will remember with much clarity. But the penalty shoot-out that followed was extraordinary, dramatic and utterly implausible, and made up for the match that preceded it. Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry was only in the team because of an injury to first-choice Sylvain Gbohouo and was a much-maligned, even comic, figure. But after Wilfried Bony and Junior Tallo missed their first two kicks in the shoot-out, someone had to do something, and that someone was Barry. He saved two penalties and after the second, from his opposite number Brimah Razak, he converted the decisive kick and became the most unlikely hero imaginable. Ivory Coast won their first Cup in 22 years and Renard became the first manager to win the trophy with two different teams, after his success with Zambia three years earlier.

2. Zaire 2-2 Zambia, 1974

There’s only ever been one replay in the history of Cup of Nations finals and it came dramatically in 1974. Zaire, who later that year would become the first sub-Saharan team to play in the World Cup, just made it to the final after finishing second in their group then squeezing past Egypt in the semi-final. There they played Zambia, who took the lead five minutes before half-time, only for Ndaye Mulamba to equalise, taking the game into extra-time. Mulamba thought he had won it with a goal in the 117th minute, but in the very final seconds Brighton Sinyangwe fired home at the near post and with penalties not yet introduced, a replay was required. That time Mulamba’s brace was enough and Zaire won 2-0 to claim their second title.

1. Nigeria 2-1 Zambia, 1994

Of all the performances against adversity in the history of football, Zambia reaching the 1994 final must be up there with the most extraordinary. The previous year the entire Zambian squad, save for captain Kalusha Bwalya, had been killed in a plane crash; quite apart from the practical problems of having to find an entirely new side, the psychological impact on the players must have been incredible. Zambia took the lead against a strong Nigeria side after just three minutes, but were pegged back shortly afterwards by Emmanuel Amunike before the same player got the winner just after half-time. Nevertheless, the game is remembered fondly by Bwalya. “Even though we lost that game, I have fond memories,” said Bwalya in 2010. “We played some of the best football in Zambia’s history in the second half.”

By Nick Miller

Portugal 3 7
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