The 33rd edition of the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) kicks off in Cameroon with 24 of the finest teams on the continent jostling for the trophy in a tournament that will run from January 9 to February 6, 2022.
But how deep is your knowledge of the competition that was first hosted in Sudan in 1957? Do you know the tournament’s history, host, players, participating countries, and what have you? Here is an alphabetical guide to the biggest show on the continent.
A is for Africa or African?
Ideally, A should be for Algeria, the defending champions and the fourth-ranked team in Africa who remain one of the favourites to win only their third AFCON after triumphing at home in 1990 and in Egypt in 2019. We beg the north African country for forgiveness as we have to ask ourselves “what’s in a name”? The tournament’s official title is the “Africa Cup of Nations”, which is a direct translation of the French “Coupe d’Afrique des Nations”. The grammatically correct “African Cup of Nations” was how the competition used to be called until a French marketing company created a logo for the tournament with the incorrect English translation and it has remained that way in all CAF media communications since.
B is for ball
Like the popular nursery rhyme B is still for Ball but this time it’s called Toghu. The ball has simple technological features including a smart panel configuration and it’s FIFA-approved to be used at the highest levels of the game. Named after the traditional outfit that is very popular in Cameroon, Torgu was designed by English sports manufacturing outfit Umbro.
C is for Covid-19
Originally, the tournament was scheduled to hold in June and July 2021 but it was called off by CAF on January 15, 2020, due to unfavourable climatic conditions during that period. It was then moved to January 9 to end February 6, 2021. On June 30, 2020, CAF moved the tournament for the second time following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the continent. The 2022 competition will now be held between January 9 and February 6 in Cameroon but Covid-19 never gave up! Nigeria’s top striker, Victor Osimhen, who played a key role for the Super Eagles during qualifiers, was ruled out after contracting Covid-19 for a second time whilst still recovering from a facial fracture. Not done, the virus paid a visit to the camp of the Gambia. The debutant had to cancel their two warm up matches due to a spike in positive Covid-19 cases within their camp. Covid, the younger but deadlier sibling of Ebola has infected 16 of their 28-man squad, leaving coach Tom Saintfiet with a herculean task of preparing his team with the virus, injuries, and travel restrictions to contend with.
D is for death
Not what you think. But have you discovered that in any major tournaments there’s always a group called the Group of Death? However, this tournament has none because three “big boys” are not in the same group. The D for Death was just meant to scare you!
E is for Egusi
Yes, you read it here and, in the headline, correctly! Egusi (also known by variations including egwusi, agusi, ohue, agushi) is the name for the protein-rich seeds of certain cucurbitaceous plants (squash, melon, gourd), which after being dried and ground are used as a major ingredient in West African cuisine. The major egusi-growing and egusi soup eating nations include Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin, and 2022 AFCON host, Cameroon. Super Eagles coach, Austin Eguavoen, and some other egusi-loving members of the team and backroom staff shouldn’t bother to stuff the Cucumeropsis mannii and Citrullus lanatus, the species egusi is derived from, in their luggage. Cameroonians are the hosts with the most!
F is for fans
We often hear that football is a media event. But can you imagine the game without the lovers of the game? That imagination was brought to reality as the Covid-19 pandemic made all the games played during that period soulless. And we know that African fans are quite unique. From the vuvuzela-blowing ones to the painted faces and pots carrying others, fans across the continent will add colour and glamour to AFCON 2022. And yes, expect the Mexican wave in Cameroon!
G is for Gambia
Covid-19 reared its ugly head, again, by depriving first-timer Comoros of the letter C. But even if another variant of the virus starts with the letter G, the tiny island’s fellow newcomers, the Gambia, cannot be denied. They came top of the qualifiers table in Group D ahead of Gabon, DR Congo, and Angola. With both countries participating for the first time, there are now 10 countries out of CAF’s 54 members who have never qualified for the AFCON: Central Africa Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Eswatini, Lesotho, Sao Tome e Principe, Seychelles, Somalia, and South Sudan.
H is for hosts
Cameroon is hosting the AFCON for the second time despite having a countryman, Issa Hayatou, as CAF president for 29 years, between 1988 and 2017. In 1972 when the country first hosted the tournament, the senior national team came third. Officially called the Republic of Cameroon, the central Africa country is bordered by Nigeria to the west and north; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. The country’s coastline lies on the Bight of Biafra, part of the Gulf of Guinea, and the Atlantic Ocean. A population of close to 25 million people speaks 250 native languages. The official languages in Cameroon are French and English while the religious population is predominantly Christian, with a significant minority practicing Islam. The rest of the populace are traditionalists.
I is for Indomitable Lions
The most intimidating nickname in African football, the Indomitable Lions have won the cup in 1984, 1988, 2000, 2002, and 2017. They failed to qualify for the 2012 and 2013 editions and also had an ignoble experience at the 2014 World Cup. Still indomitable? Well, whether the team roars like the Lion they are or meows a cat, they remain Indomitable in the name!
J is for journalists
Football indeed is a media event. Journalists across the continent and beyond will cover Africa’s elite football tournament and through their laptops, cameras, and satellites fans across the world will be in Cameroon without taking a step away from their living rooms.
K is for keepers
Football is nothing without goals and rightly so, goalkeepers are seen as a killjoy. “What a great goal” is more appealing to the ears of most soccer fans than “what a great save”. But we have no room for a cricket scoreline in the beautiful game. So, sadly, we are stuck with keepers forever!
L is for length
With 24 teams, 52 games, from January 9 to February 6, there won’t be a dull moment during AFCON 2021!
M is for mascot
A Lion, unsurprisingly, is the official mascot of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations. This particular Lion is not called Indomitable. Moreover, it’s not looking like one anyway. It’s referred to as Mola, a convivial name for a friend, an elder, an uncle, a colleague, a classmate, an age mate, and the likes. Milla sounds like Mola and would have been a good choice if only to just honour Roger Milla, who’s arguably the country’s most famous footballer.
N is for Ndole
As we return to delicacies, there’s no better choice than one of the national dishes of Cameroon. Ndolé is a meal comprising stewed nuts, ndoleh (bitter leaves indigenous to West Africa), and fish or beef. The dish may also contain shrimp or prawns. It is traditionally eaten with plantains, bobolo (a Cameroonian dish made of fermented ground manioc or cassava and wrapped in leaves). I can see you are already salivating!
O is for Olembe
Not a local or national cuisine this time. The newly built 60, 000 capacity Olembe stadium in Yaounde, will host the opening match and the final of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations.
P is for players
Of course, we know the big names. The Mo Salah, the Sadio Mane, the Riyad Mahrez, the Wilfred Ndidi, the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of this world need no introduction. As the group stages begin on Sunday, be on the lookout for some new and not so new but all exciting players that will be on show in Cameroon. The fleet-footed Kamaldeen Sulemana of Ghana will surely keep you glued to your TV. Tottenham’s manager, Antonio Conte, will not be the only one watching with eager eyes Senegal’s Pape Matar Sarr. A good tournament in Cameroon could end his loan spell in Metz and a return to north London. Hannibal Mejbri of Tunisia (pictured) showed what he was all about at the recently concluded Arab Cup. Though the Manchester United midfielder is yet to fully play for the Red Devils, the interim manager, Ralf Rangnick, has spoken highly of the 18-year-old. After this AFCON, we should pass the same verdict on the player, too. Others to watch out for: Franck Kessie, Ivory Coast; Saïd Benrahma, Algeria; Ibrahim Sangaré, Ivory Coast Ilaix Moriba, Guinea; Sebastien Haller, Ivory Coast; Taiwo Awoniyi, Nigeria; Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Cameroon; Amadou Haidara, Mali; Edmond Tapsoba, Burkina Faso; Ebrima Darboe, Gambia, Ellyes Skhiri, Tunisia.
Q is for qualifying fixtures
A total of 52 teams entered the tournament, including the hosts Cameroon, while Eritrea and Somalia chose not to take part. The draw took place on July 18, 2019, in Cairo, Egypt. The teams were seeded based on their June 2019 FIFA World Rankings. After the preliminary stage, 48 teams were drawn into twelve groups of four teams. The groups consisted of the 44 teams which entered directly, in addition to the four winners of the preliminary round. At the end of the exercise, 23 teams qualified for the tournament. The 24th is the host, Cameroon. The 2017 champions participated in the qualifiers with the team guaranteed a spot in the finals regardless of its ranking in the group.
R is for referees
We have mentioned the fans, journalists, and players. The missing link is referees. Love them, hate them but you can’t do without them. Twenty-five of them from around Africa, and one from the US, will blow the whistle at various matches, while 33 assistant referees will be running at the sidelines. There will be nine video assistant referees as well. No Nigerian made the three lists.
S is for squad
A number of players have been dropped by their respective national teams for various reasons ranging from illness, injury, loss of form, or the good old “falling out of favour with the coach” despite being involved in the qualifying fixtures. Watford failed to release Emmanuel Dennis for Nigeria. The club did the same to Senegal by preventing Ismaila Sarr from linking up with his national team. Hakim Ziyech was not invited to Morocco’s squad for the tournament after reportedly falling out with head coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
T is for trophy
In the history of the Africa Cup of Nations, three different trophies have been awarded to the winners of the tournament. The original trophy, made of silver, was the Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem Trophy, named after the first CAF president, the Egyptian of the same name. As the first winner of three Nations Cup tournaments, Ghana won it for keeps 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. Nigeria was the first country to win the new trophy. Cameroon won the Unity Cup for keeps 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 was 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. Unlike previous winners who would have then taken the trophy home, Egypt was presented with a special full-size replica that they got to keep.
U is for underdogs
The football world loves the underdogs! In the last edition of the AFCON, Benin Republic was the ‘lightweight’ punching above their size. Comoros and the Gambia will make for the perfect Cinderella teams in Cameroon.
V is for venues
With the AFCON expanded from 16 to 24 teams, six venues will be used across five Cameroonian cities. The six stadiums selected to host matches are the Olembe Stadium and Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in the capital Yaounde, the Japoma Stadium in Douala, the Limbe Stadium in Limbe, the Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam, and the Roumde Adjia Stadium in Garoua.
W is for win
Football is only a game but the winner takes all! It’s the name of the game. Ask Jose Mourinho. Ask Cristiano Ronaldo. Nothing else counts.
X is for x-ray
The letter ‘x’ is comparatively rare in English, especially when used to begin words. We had the same challenge when compiling this list, but as it’s said in Pidgin English, at all at all naim bad, so we have settled for an x-ray! Let’s use the word in an example: An x-ray to show the extent of the injuries sustained by Egypt’s Mo Salah was done and sadly, the Liverpool forward won’t be in Cameroon for the Africa Cup of Nations! That will surely be good news to the Super Eagles who are billed to face the north African side in the opening match in Group D.
Y is for ‘youngest’ ever
At 16 years, two months, and 30 days, Shiva N’Zigou of Gabon set a new record at the 2000 event in Ghana/Nigeria as the youngest AFCON competitor. Eighteen years later, however, the midfielder admitted in a TV interview that he was actually five years older and his official documents were forged. Sierra Leone’s Mohamed Kallon used to hold the record and was alleged 16 at the 1996 tournament in South Africa. That too was hardly plausible given that two years earlier, at 14, he was playing professionally in Lebanon and Sweden!
Z is for Zimbabwe
Letter ‘z’ is as limiting as letter ‘x’ but thank God for Zimbabwe, who unlike Zambia, came out of their group as second in the qualifiers table behind Algeria in the qualifying fixtures. This is the fifth AFCON appearance for the landlocked country. They didn’t go beyond the group stage in 2004, 2006, 2017, and 2019. Will it be the fifth time lucky?
We cannot wait for the 1,2,3 of the Africa Cup of Nations as the ball starts hitting the net in Yaounde, Douala, Limbe, Bafoussam, and Garoua!