The African Cup of Nations is in a league of its own


This year's Africa Cup of Nations is history. Although several Norwegian newspapers followed the tournament closer than before, the main focus of Western journalists - with a few exceptions – was the African players who play in the English Premier League.

This is not good enough – both because the readers do not get a real insight into the Africa Cup and its history and because it is poor preparation for the World Cup in South Africa this summer. Here are some very interesting facts about the Africa Cup of Nations:

Angola disappoint statisticians
The prospect of Angola doing well in this year’s tournament was huge. In the African Cup, the home advantage is traditionally very great: Of the 26 titles, eleven of the winners have been the host nation, and before this year's tournament it had only happened three times that the host nation was not among the top four (1984, 1992 and 1994). This was no great achievement at the first tournament in 1957 – then it was just four countries and South Africa was thrown out of the cup because of its apartheid policies. But today this is a remarkable feat. This year, however, Angola’s defeat to Ghana in the quarter final did not only disappoint the Angolans, but also the football statisticians.
No World Cup success
African teams have never done well in the World Cup – the best ranking for African teams is 7th place (Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002). And Egypt – who has won the African Cup of Nations seven times – has only qualified for the World Cup twice (1934 and 1990), where they ended up in a modest 13th and 20th place, respectively.

Where is East Africa?
East African teams have never done well in neither the African Cup nor the World Cup. Compared to West African teams, they downright suck! The Eastern and Central African Football Association (CECAFA) has eleven members: Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Zanzibar. None of these teams have ever qualified for the World Cup. Of these, Sudan is the only team to have won the Africa Cup of Nations. That was 40 years ago. Sudan was also the only of the eleven CECAFA teams that participated in the previous African Cup of Nations, where they lost all their matches. In this year's tournament in Angola, no East African teams qualified to play!

The English name ‘Africa Cup of Nations’ is just as paradoxical as the United Nations (UN), since this is a championship that does not portray the traditional nationalism we see for example in the European Football Championship. The UN is a collection of states, as are the Africa Cup of Nations. The popular support for the African Cup is low. If we count the popular support as a sign of nationalism, the African Cup is more a championship between states than a championship between nations, and a championship for television viewers in other parts of the world more than a championship for the population of the participating nations.

Success for South Africa?
South Africa has not shown great strength in the Africa Cup of Nations. Maybe this means they will do well in their own World Cup?

This article first appeared on Andreas Selliaas' blog 'Sportens Uutholdelige Letthet' in January. Follow Andreas' blog (in Norwegian) on


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