Johannesburg – The Africa Cup of Nations has grown from an insignificant three-team event to a competition contested by 16 countries which attracts a global TV audience running into hundreds of millions.
AFP takes a journey from the 1957 tournament in Sudan to the 2012 tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, explaining how Egypt won a recod seven titles, Cameroon and Ghana four each, and 11 other countries also experienced glory.
South Africa withdrew rather than field a multiracial team, leaving Diab Al Attar to score all the goals as Egypt outclassed Ethiopia 4-0 in the final.
Egypt triumphed at home in another three-team tournament with the format changed to round-robin. The victory margins were similar to two years before with Ethiopia conceding four goals and Sudan suffering a 2-1 loss.
Ethiopia used home advantage and two goals from Menguistu Worku to topple Egypt 4-2 after extra time in the final of a tournament that attracted Tunisia and Uganda for the first time.
Hosts Ghana conquered Africa at the first attempt with a 3-0
victory over Sudan. The number of contenders rose to six and a 6-3
win by Egypt over Nigeria created a record for the number of goals in a game that still stands.
Another six-nation event and another title for Ghana, who edged hosts Tunisia 3-2 in extra time with Frank Odoi the match-winner. The Black Stars boasted a formidable attack that put five goals past DR Congo and four past Ivory Coast.
Ethiopia hosted the first tournament to feature eight teams and semi-finals and although Ghana reached a third consecutive final it was DR Congo who took the honours with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Pierra Kalala goal.
Once again Ghana got to the final and once again they lost 1-0
with Hassabou El Saghir scoring after just 12 minutes for hosts Sudan. Ivory Coast hammered Ethiopia 6-1 for a winning margin that has been equalled, but never bettered.
A first and only title for Congo Brazzaville came from a 3-2 win over Mali in a Yaounde final won and lost in seven second-half minutes when the 'Red Devils' scored three times with Michel M'Bono bagging a brace.
The only time the final was replayed brought a second triumph for DR Congo, who overcame Zambia 2-0 in Cairo after a 2-2
stalemate two days before. Mulamba Ndaye was the toast of Kinshasa, scoring twice in both games.
The second and last tournament decided by a mini-league with Morocco ending one point ahead of Guinea after the teams drew 1-1
in the final fixture of a tournament in Ethiopia.
A third title for Ghana with Opoku Afriyie scoring in each half to earn a 2-0 win in Accra over Uganda, who have not qualified since. Tunisia walked off when Nigeria equalised in the third-place contest.
Nigeria used home advantage to lift the trophy for the first time by walloping Algeria 3-0 before an 80,000 crowd with Segun Odegbami the architect of victory with early and late opening-half goals.
Ghana collected a fourth title by pipping hosts Libya 7-6 on penalties in the first final settled by a shootout. Teenager Abedi Pele came on as a substitute to launch a career that developed him into an African superstar.
Cameroon burst on to the African scene with a 3-1 victory over Nigeria in their first final appearance. Midfielder Theophile 'Doctor' Abega, who died last year, was the Indomitable Lions' star in Abidjan.
Cameroon made the final again, but lost on penalties to hosts Egypt after a goalless decider before 100,000 spectators in an intimidating Cairo Stadium cauldron.
A third consecutive final for Cameroon and a second title as tbey proved too good again for Nigeria, but it was closer than in 1984 with an Emmanuel Kunde penalty proving the lone goal in Casablanca.
Algeria defeated Nigeria in the opening and closing matches to claim a maiden title. After dishing out a 5-1 hiding first time round, the final was decided by a solitary goal from Cherif Oudjani.
The Africa Cup is expanded to 12 teams, but goals were scarce in Senegal with Ivory Coast pipping Ghana 11-10 on penalties in the final after scoring only four in five matches and conceding none.
Zambia reached the final less than a year after most of the national team was killed in a plane crash off Gabon, but there was no fairy tale ending as Nigeria came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to an Emmanuel Amunike brace.
The first 16-team finals and this time there was a fairy tale end with the first appearance of South Africa after decades of apartheid-induced isolation culminating in a 2-0 final win over Tunisia with Mark Williams netting twice.
South Africa made the final again, but Egypt became party poopers as they scored twice within 13 minutes in Ouagadougou via Ahmed Hassan and Tarek Mostafa, then erected a barricade to emerge 2-0 victors.
Cameroon defied the odds to pip co-hosts Nigeria in Lagos after a dramatic decider in which the visitors surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 before winning 4-3 on penalties.
Another Cameroon triumph after another shootout. There were no goals in a tight Bamako final against an emerging Senegal side inspired by El-Hadji Diouf, and the Indomitable Lions held their nerve come penalties time.
After a disastrous first round exit when they staged the 1994
Cup of Nations, hosts Tunisia made amends to pip Morocco 2-1 in the first all-North Africa final witb Ziad Jaziri snatching the second-half winner.
Ivory Coast boasted a host of stars led by striker Didier Drogba, but fell at the final hurdle to hosts Egypt, whose goalkeeper Essam Al Hadary made several brilliant shootout saves to earn victory after 120 goalless minutes.
Egypt defied the odds to retain the title, thrashing title favourites Ivory Coast 4-1 to reach a final of few chances in which Cameroon kept the defending champions at bay until Mohamed Aboutrika netted 13 minutes from time.
Egypt became the first nation to win three consecutive titles. The Luanda final against Ghana was another solitary-goal affair with 'super sub' Mohamed 'Gedo' Nagy snatching a late winner.
Zambia confounded the pundits in Libreville with an 8-7 shootout win over Ivory Coast, who did not lose in six outings nor concede a goal, but once again found favouritism too heavy a burden. – Sapa-AFP