Classic finals whet the appetite

The CAF Africa Cup of Nations trophy will be handed out for the 31st time tomorrow as Egypt and Cameroon battle it out in Libreville for their continent’s top prize. The tournament has already provided us with plenty of unforgettable finals down the years, and looks back at some of the most exciting and significant thus far.

1957: Egypt 4-0 Ethiopia
History was made in Sudan on 16 February 1957 when Egypt faced off against Ethiopia in the first-ever Cup of Nations final. Remarkably, given the scale of the tournament today, just three nations contested this inaugural edition, with Ethiopia given a bye directly to the final. The Pharaohs, meanwhile, having seen off their Sudanese hosts in the semi-finals, owed the first of their seven continental titles to one man: Mohamed Ad-Diba. The on-song striker scored all four goals, setting a CAN final record that still stands to this day, and 11 years later claimed another unique place in the competition’s history by taking part in the 1968 final – as the referee.

1962: Ethiopia 4-2 Egypt
Egypt made history again five years later, but not in the way they would have wanted. On this occasion, they became the first and only team to lead twice in a CAN final and still go on to lose, as hosts Ethiopia gained sweet revenge. Having been 2-1 up with just six minutes remaining, the Pharaohs wilted in extra time, ultimately losing out to dramatic goals from Italo Vassalo and Mengistou Worku.

1965: Ghana 3-2 Tunisia
The Black Stars of Ghana, who had won their first Cup of Nations title two years earlier, successfully defended the trophy in Tunisia – but only after a titanic struggle. They and their north African hosts had shared four goals during 90 exciting minutes, and it took a decisive strike from Frank Odoi six minutes into extra time to settle the match in the holders’ favour.

1972: Congo 3-2 Mali
The Cup of Nations’ first visit to Cameroon culminated in another five-goal thriller, and one that turned in the space of seven second-half minutes. That was how long it took Congo to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead, with goals from Francois M’Pele and Michel M’Bono (2) propelling Les Diables Rouges towards their first and, to date, only continental crown.

1974: Zaire 2-0 Zambia
It took 210 minutes of football to separate Zaire and Zambia in 1974, with a replay required to determine the trophy’s destiny for the only time in the Cup of Nations’ history. The initial match had finished 2-2 after extra time, and with penalties not written into the tournament’s rule book at this stage, the players started afresh two days later. And Zaire, having been denied victory in the first encounter by a 120th-minute equaliser, made no mistake in the rematch, with Mulamba Ndaye – a double scorer in the original meeting – again striking twice to secure victory.

1984: Cameroon 3-1 Nigeria
Two years after emerging unbeaten from their first-ever FIFA World Cup™, Cameroon claimed their maiden Cup of Nations title with a thrilling 3-1 victory over Nigeria in Côte d’Ivoire. The Indomitable Lions had been beaten by Egypt during the group phase and needed penalties to squeeze past Algeria in the last four, but they lived up to their moniker in the final, coming from behind to sink the Super Eagles with goals from Rene N’Djeye, Theophile Abega and Ernest Ebongue.

1992: Côte d’Ivoire 0-0 Ghana (11-10 PSO)
They might have failed to serve up any goals during the main event, but Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana still treated us to one of the most thrilling penalty shootouts ever witnessed in this heart-stopping finale. No fewer than 24 spot kicks were required to settle the outcome, with Les Elephants claiming their only Cup of Nations title to date after Alain Gouamene saved from Tony Baffoe.

1994: Nigeria 2-1 Zambia
This was a match laden with emotion, taking place as it did less than a year after 18 of Zambia’s national squad were killed in an air crash. Having embarked on a memorable and near-miraculous run to the final, the Copper Bullets even took a fourth-minute lead in Tunis before eventually succumbing to an Emmanuel Amunike double.

1996: South Africa 2-0 Tunisia
Another final full of significance took place two years later in South Africa, where the hosts united around a fiercely determined Bafana Bafana side. In the final, a double from Mark Williams provided the fairy tale conclusion the home fans had been hoping for, and left Nelson Mandela to lead the 80,000 crowd in celebration.

2000: Cameroon 2-2 Nigeria (4-3 PSO)
The most exciting final of recent years took place in Lagos, although on this occasion there was to be no happy ending for the hosts. Nigeria did battle back from two goals down, but Cameroon – with a young Samuel Eto’o in sparkling form – emerged triumphant from the resultant penalty shootout, with Rigobert Song crashing home the winning kick.

2012: Zambia 0-0 Côte d’Ivoire (8-7 PSO)
Seven of the last eight AFCON finals have either ended 0-0 or 1-0, and the 2012 decider was no exception. But though the game itself was not a thriller, there was huge poignancy and emotional significance to Zambia’s dramatic victory over heavy favourites Côte d’Ivoire in Libreville. The plane crash that claimed the lives of the country’s celebrated 1993 side had, after all, taken place off the coast of this same Gabonese city, and the 2012 squad had laid flowers on the beach ahead of facing Les Elephants. For the Ivorians, penalties were their undoing, with Didier Drogba missing from 12 yards during normal time and both Kolo Toure and Gervinho failing in a shootout in which Stoppila Sunzu struck the winning kick.


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