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7 Best Africa Cup of Nations of All Time
Since 1957, the Africa Cup of Nations has offered joy, despair and drama. In the build up to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, Robert Malit recalls some of the greatest Africa Cup of Nations of all time, and explains just what made them so great.
1963: Kwame Nkrumah’s Real Republikans
1963 served up the fourth edition of the Africa Cup of Nations. In a period characterized by African emancipation from colonial rule this tournament stood out as a representative of African renaissance. Ghana, making their debut, hosted and won the competition. The achievement had far reaching consequences; it inspired the rise of black African football and marked the start of the ever-present tension between football and politics on the continent.
Ghana’s national football team nickname, the Black Stars, was conferred on the team by President Kwame Nkrumah–himself deriving it from Jamaican Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey. The Ghanaian leader, in his quest for a united Africa, used football to achieve his agenda and none more so than overseeing the development and subsequent success of the Ghana team. He tasked Ohene Djan, now the most celebrated football administrator in the country’s history, to form a precursor to the national team; Real Republikans. The team, whose name was inspired by the great Real Madrid side of the 60s, was composed of two of the best players from each of the teams in the Ghanaian league formed in 1958. The move, though unpopular, was justified by nationalistic rhetoric. Real Republikans would make up 10 of the starting eleven that clinched the Africa Cup of Nations title. Things started out well for the newly-formed Black Stars–holding Real Madrid to a 3-3 draw in Accra, a year before the tournament.
The tournament had been expanded to include 6 countries; Ghana, Ethiopia, United Arab Republic (a brief union between Egypt and Syria), Sudan, Nigeria and Tunisia. The sides were drawn into two groups of three where the winners would advance to the finals and the runners up clash for the third-place playoff. Ghana was coached by Nkrumah’s handpicked local coach, Charles Kumi Gyamfi, who was the first African to play in the German league (Fortuna Dusseldorf) and would later win three Africa Cup of Nations titles as a coach. He didn’t set his team for a resounding start in Group A as they could only draw 1-1 with Tunisia, Wilberforce Kwadwo Mfum becoming Ghana’s first goal-scorer at the Africa Cup of Nations. Nevertheless, The Black Stars announced their intents next by defeating defending champions Ethiopia by two goals to nil to sail into the final; Ethiopia would defeat Tunisia 4-2 two days later to confirm this. In Group B Egypt, under the United Arab Republic banner, was by far the more experienced side. Not only were they the oldest African national football team but they also already had two Africa Cup of Nations titles under their belt and had only just lost the preceding final. True to form, Egyptian great Hassan El-Shazly mirrored 1957 Africa Cup of Nations hero Mohammed Diab Al-Attar “Ad-Diba” by scoring four goals against Nigeria in a 6-3 drubbing. Nonetheless, Egypt would fail to reach the final for the first time- only managing to draw against a Sudan side who would later wallop Nigeria 4-0 to earn that place.
Egypt maintained their status as podium finishers by defeating Ethiopia, 3-0, but it was the final that all the attention would be drawn to. The hosts saved their barrage against Sudan for the second half; symbolically, their skipper Aggrey Fyn scoring the first goal from the spot after 62 minutes of play. Football myth in Ghana claims the country’s fear of penalties stem as far back as this game. The story goes that, another of this team’s heroes, Edward Acquah told his captain on the awarding of the penalty in Fante language, “Aren’t you afraid of taking Ghana’s penalty for me?” Acquah would etch his name in, more provable, Ghanaian football folklore by scoring two goals later on to earn Ghana her first title.
This Ghana team would pave the way for the country’s dominance of the Africa Cup of Nations in the 1960s- momentarily taking Egypt’s place as the leading light of African football. While Ghana would fizzle with the ousting of Kwame Nkrumah and the halting of his Real Republikan brain-child, the stage had been set for African football to rise. In Nkrumah’s words, “…ambassadors for Pan-Africanism and the new spirit of the African man.”