AFCON: Who Wins The Crown?

The grand finale of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations comes up tomorrow with the Super Eagles of Nigeria taking on the surprise finalist, Burkina Faso at the 94,000-capacity National Stadium, Soweto in an all West African final derby.

To reach the final, Nigeria displayed the class of true champions when they crushed Mali 4-1 in the semi-final to stay on course of winning the continental soccer showpiece for the first time in 19 year. The superb semi-final at the Moses Mabhida stadium was won and lost in a blistering 20-minute first-half spell, in which Nigeria scored three goals to leave them dreaming of their third African title.

Burkinabes stunned Black Stars of Ghana 4-2 on penalties after the two teams were inseparable at 1-1 in a thrilling semi-final of 120 minutes. But they will have to face Nigeria without key player Jonathan Pitroipa, who picked up two yellow cards against Ghana.

Super Eagles from lacklustre 1-1 draws with Burkina Faso and Zambia in their group stage matches in Nelspruit to a crucial make or mar final group match with Ethiopia in Rustenburg which took almost 80 minutes before it was salvaged with two spot kicks netted by Chelsea winger, Victor Moses. Eagles improved rapidly and shocked overwhelming tournament favourites, Cote d’Ivoire in a spectacular quarter final 2-1 defeat before mauling Mali 4-1 in the semi-final.

Tomorrow final will be Nigeria’s seventh Africa Cup of Nations finals in her seventh appearances. The team won the Cup twice in 1980 and 1994 and finished runners-up four times in 1984, 1988 (both to Cameroon), 1990 (to Algeria) and 2000 (again, to Cameroon).

NFF President Aminu Maigari speaking after Nigeria qualification for the final urged the players not to rest on their oars but keep their head low until they win the trophy for President Goodluck Jonathan who is expected to be among top dignitaries that will grace the final alongside South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma.

“This is a victory that we dedicate to all Nigerians. It was a magnificent performance by our team, but I insist that the Super Eagles must keep their heads low and focus on the final match because we cannot afford to disappoint President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday.”

Another glaring feature of tomorrow AFCON’s final is the Super Eagles chief coach, Stephen Keshi, who captained the victorious Nigeria team in 1994, has the opportunity of becoming the second person to win the Africa Cup of Nations both as player and as Coach.
The only person that has achieved this feat is Egyptian Mahmoud al-Gohary, who won as player in 1959 and as coach in 1998.

Throughout the history of the Nations Cup, three different trophies have been awarded to the winners of the competition. The original trophy, made of silver, was the Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem Trophy, named after the first CAF president, Egyptian Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem. As the first winner of three Nations Cup tournaments, Ghana obtained the right to permanently hold the trophy in 1978.

The second trophy was awarded from 1980 to 2000, and it was named “Trophy of African Unity” or “African Unity Cup”. It was given by the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa to the CAF prior to the 1980 tournament and it was a cylindrical piece with the Olympic rings over a map of the continent engraved on it. It sat on a squared base and had stylized triangular handles. Cameroon won the Unity Cup indefinitely after they became three-time champions in 2000.

In 2001, the third trophy was revealed, a gold-plated cup designed and made in Italy. Cameroon, permanent holders of the previous trophy, were the first nation to be awarded the new trophy after they won the 2002 edition. Egypt won the gold-plated cup indefinitely after they became three-time champions in 2010, in an unprecedented achievement by winning three consecutive continental titles.

Previous Winners
1959-United Arab Republic
1992-Cote D’Ivoire
1996-South Africa