A continental tournament quite unlike any other, the African Cup of Nations has had its fair share of rivalries forged by history, geographic proximity, the quest for footballing power, and much more.
These have only served to add an edge to the competition on the pitch and elevated the levels of joy & disappointment of the fans.
We take a look at some of the definitive rivalries in the AFCON.
Ivory Coast vs. Senegal
Even though these two West African nations have only faced off four times in the 60-year history of the Cup of Nations – first in 1965 and most recently in 2012 – the multiple friendlies and World Cup qualifiers in between led to a healthy rivalry between the fans.
The storyline was mostly built on expectations for Ivory Coast to maintain their dominance as a footballing powerhouse, with Senegal making breakthroughs as and when they could.
None of those would be in the Cup of Nations though with Les Elephants winning all four clashes, and in fact only losing one competitive game to Senegal although they did lose six international friendlies.
Nigeria vs. Cameroon
A rivalry that has fizzled out in recent years with both teams falling down the pecking order of African football, Cameroon and Nigeria have had some memorable clashes in the Cup of Nations.
The first time they met in this tournament was in the final of 1984, with the legendary Roger Milla in the line-up for Cameroon.
While Milla didn’t score, Cameroon claimed their 1st AFCON title with a 3 – 1 win over the Super Eagles. Nigeria’s misfortune continued to their next meeting, with Cameroon claiming their 2nd title in 1988 with a 1 – 0 win in the final.
Their clash in 1992 would serve as some consolation for Nigeria but rewarded them only the 3rd place in the tournament – yet another consolation.
As luck would have it, their next clash came in 2000, again in the final which ended after extra time at 2 – 2 with Samuel Eto’o on the scoresheet for Cameroon.
After a nerve-wracking penalty shootout, Cameroon would prevail 4 – 3 for their 3rd Cup of Nations title, all of which they won against Nigeria. No wonder then, that beating them in the quarter-finals of 2004 before having to settle for another 3rd place finish would have come as scant consolation for Nigeria.
Ghana vs. Ivory Coast
These two neighbours are absolute powerhouses of African football, and their clashes have almost always been glamorous affairs and matters of prestige.
Out of a total of 14 clashes in the Cup of Nations, Ivory Coast hold the advantage in this rivalry with 8 wins as opposed to 5 for the Black Stars. Having won their first 3 clashes in this tournament,
Ghana would fail to beat Ivory Coast in the next six, including the final in 1992 that ended up 11- 10 on penalties. It would take a goal from Abedi Pele for Ghana to seal a 2 – 0 win in 1996, after a gap of 26 years over their rivals in the AFCON.
Their most recent clash in the tournament was in the final of 2015, which would seem eerily like that of ’92 with a 0 – 0 score line after extra time leading to a 9-8 win for the Ivory Coast on penalties. We’re definitely calling this rivalry currently in their favour.
Ghana vs. Nigeria
A clash that has been ongoing since before the two countries even gained independence, Ghana holds a slight edge by winning 4 of their 11 clashes as opposed to 3 for Nigeria.
While the games themselves have often been insignificant group fixtures – these two have met 7 times in group games – victory has been an imperative demand from the fans due to the socioeconomic conditions that pit them against each other for regional supremacy.
Of the 4 knockout clashes between the sides, Ghana holds a 3 – 1 advantage, and one that they’ve driven home in recent years with the decline of the Super Eagles.
Algeria vs. Egypt
One of the most infamous rivalries in the history of football, the clash between these two Northern African giants has deep roots.
From Algeria’s resentment over Egypt’s refusal to play a team that was spreading awareness about Algeria’s struggle for independence to the 1989 incident where the Egyptian team doctor lost sight in an eye from a bottle thrown by an Algerian player to several clashes between the fans, it is one of the ugliest rivalries in international football.
Believe it or not, Egypt – AFCON’s most successful team – have a miserable record against their bitter rivals, having won only 2 and lost 5 of their 9 clashes. Their most recent clash though would have been very pleasing for Egypt as they thumped Algeria 4 – 0 on their way to the title.