SHOCK SUCCESS: Zambia celebrate winning their 2012 Africa Cup of Nations triumph
AS WITH all international football tournaments the Confederation of African Football’s grand showpiece had inauspicious beginnings.
The most noteworthy fact about the 1957 Cup of Nations, with respect to inaugural champions Egypt, was the disqualification of apartheid South Africa as just three countries competed in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
By the time Ghana hosted and won the fourth edition in 1963 the competition had expanded to six teams and included a qualifying tournament.
The Black Stars became the first sub-Saharan winners, breaking the Egyptian and Ethiopian cartel. They defended their crown in 1965 before losing the 1968 final to Congo-Kinshasa in a newly expanded eight-team format.
The 1970s produced five different champions. Zaire triumphed in 1974 and four months later the Leopards became the first sub-Saharan nation to compete at the World Cup.
Egypt’s victory in 1986 was the sole North African triumph of the 1980s as Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon prevailed.
The 1990s witnessed further expansion of the competition, first to 12 teams in 1992, then 16 in 1996, which remains its current quota.
The talented Nigeria side of the mid-90s lifted the cup in 1994, while 1996 saw the overdue debut of South Africa, who hosted and won the competition.
Cameroon’s back-to-back titles, and Tunisia’s maiden victory, at the start of the millennium, preceded the Egyptian dominance that culminated in a hat-trick of titles in 2010.
This feat was overshadowed by the fatal terrorist attack on the Togo team bus as it travelled to that tournament. Civil unrest also saw the transferral of this year’s tournament from Libya to South Africa.
Yet the last edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea also provided the heart-warming victory of Zambia, who won their first title 19 years after members of their promising side perished in an air crash on Gabonese soil.