The Africa Cup of Nations explained

Ranked as the biggest football competition in the continent, the Africa Cup of Nations, officially abbreviated as CAN (French for Coupe d'Afrique des Nations) is undoubtedly a momentous event. Its current sponsors are Total Africa, and thus, it may also be referred to as the Total Africa Cup of Nations. 

Not to be confused with CHAN (CAF Africa Nations Championship), the Africa Cup of nations unites soccer fanatics from Cairo to Cape Town. From tough group qualifiers to fierce finals, the tournament is always a breathtaking spectacle to witness. 

A Brief History of CAN

The inaugural Africa Cup of Nations competition was held in February 1957. It was a poor attendance with only Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan participating. 

The event took place in Khartoum, Sudan. South Africa, which was initially supposed to participate in the championship were disqualified at the eleventh hour after the apartheid regime insisted on selecting a team of white-only players and racially discriminating the blacks. 

As a result of the disqualification, only two matches were played. Egypt won the final by scoring 4 - 0 against Ethiopia after previously thrashing Sudan in the semis. 
Between 1965 and 1982, only a maximum of two foreign-based players could play in a team.
The tournament has exhibited tremendous growth over the years. From an initial four-team competition, the number currently stands at 24 teams. 


The Africa Cup of Nations falls under the jurisdiction of the Confederation of African Football, or simply CAF. The governing body does not have a substantial President at the moment. Constant Omari Selemani, also a FIFA Council member holds the position in an acting capacity. 

CAF is also mandated to run all national, continental, and club competitions. They also manage regulations, media broadcasting rights, and prize money.

Notable Statistics

Notably, the CAN title has been held by North African nations more than any other region. Going by numbers, the trophy has been to Egypt 7 times, Algeria 2, Morocco 1, and Tunisia 1. 

  • West Africans follow closely with Ghana winning 4 times, Nigeria 3, and Ivory Coast 2. 
  • Centra Africa has Cameroon 5, DR Congo 2, and Congo Brazaville 1 time.  
  • The East African region is represented by Ethiopia and Sudan each winning once.
  • Last but not the least, South Africa and Zambia each with one title represent the Southern region. 

The Trophy

Since its inception in 1957, the CAN football championship has had three different trophies. The original one was named after the first CAF President. The Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem silverware was permanently given to Ghana in 1978 after winning the title thrice. 

From 1980 to the year 2000, the “Trophy of African Unity” was awarded to the winners. It was a cylinder with a square base and an Africa map engraving. Cameroon got the right to keep it permanently in after three title wins. 

The third trophy was introduced in 2001 and was first held by Cameroon after winning the 2002 championship. Egypt, upon becoming three-time winners in 2010 was unlike the previous pacesetters given a life-size replica to keep. 

Since then, first and second-time titleholders are given smaller-sized trophies to showcase. 

Notable Milestones

Like in any other progressive organization, the CAN championship has undergone drastic changes along the way. Among the earliest notable changes was the 1965 ban of overseas-based players which we had earlier mentioned. Were it to be reintroduced today, the rule would spell doom to many teams that heavily rely on their nationals who ply trade in Europe. 

The cessation of giving away the original trophy to a three-time winner in 2002 was also a daring shift of tradition. Though it came as a shocker to many, it is understood that it would be too costly to procure new trophies after every permanent handover to a deserving team.

After the 2010 event, it was announced that the tournament would henceforth be held in odd-numbered years. The pattern took effect in 2013 not forgetting that the 2012 event also took place as scheduled. The timetable restructuring resulted in having the games twice in a year’s span, i.e., January 2012 and January 2013.   

Expansion from 16 to 24 participating nations in July 2017 was another major change cemented at Rabat, Morocco.  

More recently, several CAN qualifier matches slated for March 2020 were postponed due to the emergence of the CoronaVirus pandemic earlier that year.

Final Take

It’s no doubt that the African continent has been bedeviled by many challenges among them colonization, corrupt governments, droughts and famine, diseases, and even internal wars. 

Nonetheless, this has not stopped the love for soccer that runs in the African blood to soar higher. This has resulted in tremendous growth in the game. 

Africans playing in major world leagues have proven to the world that out of the dark continent, there come bright stars who continue to inspire future generations.    

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