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Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments

Sun 09 January 2022 | 14:30

With the presence of the best African players in the world, AFCON is bound to encompass some of the most memorable moments in the competition each time it is held in one of the countries in Africa.

The CAF Africa Cup of Nations, or CAN, is Africa's premier international men's association football tournament. It is sometimes known as AFCON, or Total Africa Cup of Nations, after its title sponsor. It was first held in 1957 under the supervision of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

It has been conducted every two years since 1968, with the odd-numbered years starting in 2013. The current World Cup champion is Algeria. Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia were the only nations to compete in the first tournament, which took place in 1957. The competition has grown significantly since then, necessitating the holding of a qualifying round.

The number of teams competing in the final tournament increased to 16 in 1998 and the format remained unchanged until 2017, with the 16 teams divided into four groups of four teams each, with the top two teams in each group advancing to a "knock-out" stage. The Africa Cup of Nations was expanded from 16 to 24 teams and moved from January to June on July 20, 2017.

Egypt has won the cup seven times, making them the most successful nation in history (including in 1959, when Egypt was united with Syria as the United Arab Republic). During the tournament's history, three trophies have been awarded, with Ghana and Cameroon winning the first two versions to keep after each of them won three tournaments. In 2002, the current trophy was presented for the very first time. In 2006, 2008, and 2010, Egypt won three trophies in a row for the first time ever.

Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments

Below you will find some of the Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments where either players or teams made history during the competition.

A Painful Mistake

We might have to write about the most memorable moments in Tunisian refereeing decisions at some point.

The Hand of God, as well as the Mystery of Mourad Daami, will very certainly be mentioned there as well.

Daami was the official who apparently decided that

Nigeria

's Victor Ikpeba's penalty in the 2000 final shootout had not crossed the line, despite the fact that it did, by approximately a yard, one of the Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments.

To be fair to Daami, he wasn't the only one who missed it: his assistant, who was positioned very next to the goal, missed Ikpeba's shot after it hit the underside of the bar.

Everyone else in the stadium saw it, including Ikpeba, who walked away in shock, his head in his hands, not knowing he actually just experienced one of the

5 Memorable AFCON Moments

Following misses by Nigeria's Nwankwo Kanu and Cameroon's Marc-Vivien Foe, the judgment set the stage for

Cameroon

to pull off a remarkable victory, overshadowing what had been a fantastic final, in which Nigeria came back from two goals down to draw 2-2 thanks to a sublime equalizer by Jay-Jay Okocha.

The best things that could be said about the referee's decision were that it proved he wasn't a homer, as the Lagos crowd's molten rage cut no ice.

It made the strongest possible case for goalline technology; and it allowed Rigobert Song, one of the most inspirational international captains of our time, to score the winning spot-kick.

The match between Nigeria and Cameroon and the referee’s decision can indeed be considered one of the Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments.

South Africa Back to Glory

The South African national team made a fantastic Africa Cup of Nations debut on home soil fourteen years before Siphiwe Tshabalala scored "a goal for all of Africa" in the 2010 World Cup, as Peter Drury cloyingly put it.

South Africa

, a founding member of CAF, had never played a tournament match before being disqualified for refusing to field a multiracial squad at the first tournament and then banned when apartheid took hold.

After their ban was removed, South Africa had an ordinary start to life in the event, failing to qualify for the 1994 tournament, losing to Zambia and Zimbabwe, and being held at home by Mauritius.

The following campaign saw things improve, with Leeds' Phil Masinga scoring goals against Mauritius and Madagascar, but qualification remained a tough task.

That was before CAF stripped Kenya of the event due to financial issues, and Bafana Bafana was taken out of qualifying to host the tournament. The selection of South Africa did little to ease tensions between Nelson Mandela and Nigeria's military leader, General Sani Abacha.

The 1994 Nations Cup winners, who won Olympic gold in August 1996, were unquestionably Africa's best team, but they did not return to defend their championship.

There were 15 teams in the event before it began and one of the

Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments

occurred. South Africa was placed in a difficult group against African giants Egypt and Cameroon, as well as Angola. 

Masinga set up an unexpected 3-0 triumph over Cameroon in front of a crowd of 75,000 at Soccer City for the team's first AFCON encounter.

Mark Williams of

Wolves

scored the game's only goal against Angola, and although losing to Egypt, Clive Barker's side finished first in their group, avoiding the deadly Zambians in the quarter-finals.

With Mandela watching, South Africa felt another uniting success a little over six months after winning the Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg.

Whereas the rugby squad had been primarily white, Bafana Bafana had a considerably more diversified set of players, many of whom were well-known to British audiences, such as Lucas Radebe and Shaun Bartlett, and played the game that was popular in the townships.

The final was held in Soccer City, which is located on the outskirts of Soweto. South Africa qualified for the tournament with victories against Algeria and Ghana (again), with John "Shoes" Moshoeu scoring three goals in each game.

Barker's team may have expected to meet Zambia in the final, but Tunisia shocked the world by beating 4-2 in their semi-final.

The Carthage Eagles were no match for the hosts and their 80,000 spectators, as Williams scored twice late in the game to secure the title on their debut.

It was the pinnacle of a golden age for South Africa, who had previously lost to Egypt in 1998, finished third in 2000, and had not won a knockout game since.

Who knows? Maybe we will be lucky enough to witness another one of these great moments in Africa Cup of Nations 2021.

The Impossible and Inevitable

The Zambia national team

departed Libreville, Gabon, on the third leg of a marathon journey from Lusaka to Dakar for a World Cup qualifier on April 27, 1993.

The plane exploded seconds later over the Gulf of Guinea, killing all 30 people on board, including 18 players and the team's coach.

The crash struck a squad in its prime, on the verge of reaching their first World Cup, just as Superga, Munich, and Chapecoense. The event sparked a dispute between Zambia and Gabon, two remote countries dragged into a needless tragedy.

In order to reach Senegal, the rusty military plane was supposed to make three stops, the second of which was in Libreville. “We always used to say ‘this plane will kill us someday", Kalusha Bwalya, Zambia's standout player who missed the tragic journey, said.

The hatred between the two countries has not faded after nineteen years and one inconclusive investigation. In Zambia, the word "Gabon" had become a negative term, and the team had no desire to return.

Since a new team based around Bwalya lost the 1994 final to Nigeria, Zambia had nothing but heartbreak at the Africa Cup of Nations: between 1998 and 2008, Zambia failed to qualify once and fell out in the group stage five times. 

Nigeria was there to stop them again, this time on penalties when they finally progressed in 2010, one of the unfortunate Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments.

By 2012, Bwalya was president of the Zambian Football Association, and he persuaded Herve Renard, the mastermind behind the 2010 campaign, to give it another shot with a team he had built from the ground up.

Renard saw destiny beckoning among the trepidation. They'd play Senegal first and only return to Libreville if they advanced to the final.

He brought three white shirts to the tournament: one for the group stage, one for the knockout games, and one for the final.

With Zambia arriving in Gabon as Africa's 16th-ranked squad, Renard's belief was a vital resource, but their opening win over Senegal carved a way to the semi-finals.

Ghana awaited, but after keeping their opponents scoreless for 78 minutes, forward Emmanuel Mayuka curled the ball home from the edge of the box, and Zambia were on their way back to Libreville.

Renard and his teammates went to a beach near the crash site and let flowers float out to sea when they arrived.

Zambia faced Ivory Coast, the continent's strongest squad and one of the

Nations Cup winners

, two days later, within sight of the coast.

It went to penalties, which was somewhat unsurprising for two sides that had taken a cautious approach to the final. Something unexpected happened along the way.

The Zambian fans began to cheer for the team, putting aside two decades of hostility to help the team reach their goal.

When Kolo Toure, filling in for Gervinho, saw his sudden-death penalty saved by Kennedy Mweene, the time seemed to have arrived.

Rainford Kabala moved forward with victory in his eyes and then blasted his penalty over the bar. The ground was threatened by a sense of dread, but the team's faith did not waver.

Didier Drogba pushed Gervinho forward, but he missed his penalty, giving Zambia another chance. Stoppila closed his eyes and raised his arms in the air as his teammates sang in unison.

Sunzu slipped away, his eyes filled with a higher purpose, still singing under his breath. Sunzu blasted the ball into the net, sealing an incredible victory that seemed both impossible and inevitable, one of the 5 Memorable AFCON Moments. Renard remarked, “I can’t explain it, It was written.”

The Decisive Penalty Shootouts

Any player who scores in a shootout will undoubtedly admit to a secret sigh of relief, knowing that they are now free of personal blame for whatever happens next.

They would do well to remember

Ghana

's Anthony Baffoe, who endured the agony of scoring, exhaling, then being summoned again, with the stakes tenfold higher, and missing.

West Africa reclaimed continental supremacy in Dakar, Africa's westernmost city, in 1992, after a string of successes for teams from outside the region.

Ghana, the four-time champions and favorites, faced Ivory Coast, whose tenacious native defense had carried them to the final without surrendering a goal.

Yeo Martial, the Ivory Coast coach, had been realistic about how they would set up ahead of the semi-final against Cameroon. “In the past, we’ve played entertaining football, but have returned home without the cup,” Martial told John Salako in Channel Four’s idiosyncratic tournament review. “After a game, people ask who won, not who played the better football.”

Martial kept his word and sent his team out to disrupt the Indomitable Lions' rhythm, which had been the soundtrack to Italia 90. 

The match went to penalties, and Cameroon goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell took the fourth spot-kick, with expected results.

Meanwhile, Ghana defeated Nigeria, but Pele was booked and ruled out of the final.

The final started off quickly, with Ghana's Prince Polley volleying over an open goal within the first five minutes, but the game then slowed down for long stretches.

The

Ivory Coast

's finest chance came in the final minute when Joel Tiehi broke free but couldn't get past Ghana goalkeeper Edward Ansah, whose save set up the mother of all penalty shootouts.

Ivory Coast's Basile Aka Kouame netted before Baffoe, Ghana's captain, stepped up and pushed the ball into the bottom left corner.

The next five penalty kicks were all scored, but the pressure finally got to Ghana's teen defender Isaac Asare, who mishit his shot wide.

That gave Tiehi a chance to make amends for his late error; his penalty hit the post, then the goalkeeper, but was saved.

Tony Yeboah's typically underhit attempt slipped between Alain Gouamene's grasp as Ghana still needed to score.

The shootout was headed for sudden death, a format that wasn't meant to endure long. 

As the sky darkened, both sides refused to give in to the inevitable, and ten more spot-kicks were converted.

You can clearly see that this was indeed one of the

Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments.

Gouamane found the top-right corner, and Ansah responded with a fearless effort in the opposite way.

Following each player's penalty, there was some doubt as to what should happen next, with numerous Ghana players wandering upfield to inquire of the referee. The first two takers returned, perhaps because they saw something in Baffoe's eyes.

Aka's nerves got the better of him, and his shot was straight at Ansah, but the keeper clutched at air, the ball trickled in, and the pendulum swung decisively in the other direction.

Baffoe went forward, unable to believe his bad luck, and watched his second penalty saved.

Ivory Coast were crowned champions and the Nations Cup winners without surrendering a goal throughout the tournament and after winning an amazing shootout 11-10.

Even the Africa Cup of Nations 2021 probably won’t experience such tense shootouts with all the top-flight players it features now.

The Underdogs Prevail

Before the 1972 tournament, it was thought that the best the players of the People's Republic of Congo could hope for was a respectable showing against their neighbors Zaire, who, along with hosts Cameroon and Salif Keita's Mali, were the most likely competitors for the title.

Congo

did so in their second group encounter, in which they lost 2-0 to the Leopards despite playing well. Congo, however, was not satisfied, and in their final group game, they thrashed Sudan 4-2 to finish level on points and goal difference with Morocco.

To decide which country would be declared group runners-up, a raffle with two pieces of paper and a basket was quickly prepared. The Red Devils were fortunate, one of the Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments.

Their success was not anticipated to persist, as they faced Cameroon in the semi-final, who had benefited from the kind of luck that hosts typically have when they drew their final group game courtesy to a goal scored after the Malian defense had stopped assuming the ball had gone completely out of play.

After the Egyptian referee allowed the goal to stand, a commentator on Malian radio thundered, "That's one of the biggest scandals in Africa Cup of Nations history, it was at least five meters out!" Keita, who had watched from the press box due to injury, later said, "It was only out by 1.5 to two meters."

If that was scandalous, the semi-final was truly startling, something quite unique even as of

Africa Cup of Nations 2021. 

Cameroon, slow and sterile either through complacency or the weight of expectation, was unable to make any headway against the energetic and creative young underdogs.

Congo took the lead after half an hour through Noel "Pepe" Minga, a tough and clever center midfielder, and held on to win.

Congo played with a powerful spirit under manager Adolphe Bibandzoulou, and their squad included some truly nifty players, including the marauding winger Jonas "Tostao" Mbemba, the striker Jean-Michel “Sorcerer” M’Bono of Etoile du Congo, and a 21-year-old Paul Moukila, who began to show the sort of form that would later make him an African player of the year at this tournament.

Ajaccio midfielder Francois M'Pele, subsequently of Paris Saint-Germain, was Congo's best foreign-based player. All fine and good, but Mali had Keita, the African player of the year in 1970, and a regular crusher of European defenses with St Etienne.

Keita was forced to withdraw from the final after 21 minutes due to injury, but Moussa Diakhite quickly demonstrated that Mali still had plenty of talented players: just before halftime, he feinted past an opponent and smashed a left-footed shot into the top corner from 25 yards.

M'Bono scored twice in two minutes shortly before the hour, the second goal a fantastic flip with the outside of his boot from the edge of the box, and Congo overturned the score.

M'Bono then set up M'Pele for a third goal. Mali's Moussa Traore pulled one back, but Congo held on to win and become the tournament's most unexpected champions and creating one of the Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments.

An English Manager Leading Egypt to Victory

The Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser will never be forgiven for his part in one of England's most humiliating defeats, but in the spirit of fairness, we should also remember that only a few months before he was conducting an impromptu study of Mexican cloud patterns while

Diego Maradona

punched the ball past Peter Shilton, Bin Nasser presided over a magnificent English victory.

He was the referee who maintained a close eye on the 1986 Africa Cup of Nations final, allowing no manual skulduggery as manager Mike Smith guided Egypt to victory after a long and agonizing wait, one of the

Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments.

Egypt's Nations Cup history began in an unmistakably straightforward manner. They won the first two editions, when there were barely enough competitors to call it a tournament, and came in second in the third, but then began to suffer despite the country's thriving club culture.

In fact, after Egypt's catastrophic defeat in the six-day war in 1967, President Gamal Abdel Nasser determined that football was flourishing too much, distracting the menfolk and sapping their resolve. As a result, he made it illegal. 

The prohibition was removed in 1971, and Egypt hosted the event for the first time three years later.

They were eliminated in the semi-finals by a strong Zaire team. After that, staging the final was unpleasant, and to add insult to injury, Zaire and Zambia drew 2-2 in front of a pitiful crowd, forcing Egypt to stage a replay, which Zaire won 2-0.

When Egypt hosted the event again in 1986, they were under a lot of strain. There was a lot of money floating about in Egyptian football at the time.

Many international managers were enticed, including Don Revie, who won the 1984 African Cup Winners' Cup with Al Ahly, and Smith, who was appointed to the national team job a decade after leading Wales to the European Championship play-offs.

In January 1986, Smith assisted in the organization of England's first-ever match in Africa, with Bobby Robson's team winning 4-0 in a friendly in Cairo.

Two months later, the Africa Cup of Nations began in the same place, and Egypt appeared to be in for yet another embarrassing loss, when Senegal, led by Jules Bocande, defeated Egypt 1-0.

Smith's team rallied, placing first in their group after victories against Ivory Coast and Mozambique, before defeating Morocco in the semi-finals thanks to a goal by Taher Abouzeid, dubbed "the Maradona of the Nile."

No one scored in the final, which drew roughly 100,000 spectators in contrast to the last one held in Cairo, one of the 5 Memorable AFCON Moments.

When Cameroon's Thomas N'Kono saved Mustafa Abdou's penalty in the shootout, the majority of those present fell silent.

Thabet El-Batal, on the other hand, restored optimism by rescuing Gregoire M'Bida. And delight erupted when Andre Kana-Biyik missed a penalty kick, giving Egypt and Smith the win.

Smith was unable to repeat his success in 1988 when Egypt was eliminated from the group stage, and he had less of an impact on Egyptian football than his two most brilliant successors (Mohamed El Gahary and Hassan Shehata).

But in 1986, he did what he was asked and made it to our list of Africa Cup of Nations memorable moments.

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source: SportMob

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