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The 31st edition of the African Cup of Nations kicks off on Saturday in Gabon.

For the third time in the last five editions, Nigeria have failed to qualify. While there are arguments about Nigeria being missed at the tournaments, there is no doubt that the 2017 AFCON will live up to expectation.

Here are some interesting facts about the biggest international football tournament on the continent.

First Edition and Revolution

The First Edition of AFCON was held in 1957 and just three teams participated – Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. South Africa was disqualified due to the apartheid policies of their government at the time.

Four nations participated from 1962 and was expanded to 6 countries in 1963. In 1992, the tournament was expanded to accommodate 12 nations and in the 1998 edition in Burkina Faso, 16 countries took part.

The AFCON has, for the most part, been staged every two years since it was held in Ethiopia in 1968 and was played in even numbered years until 2012, when CAF decided to shift it to odd numbered years in order to avoid the tournament in the same years as World Cup.

The first edition of AFCON to be televised was the 1970 edition hosted by Sudan.

The first time the tournament would be co-hosted was in 2000 when Nigeria and Ghana jointly hosted the tournament.

Winning and Participation

Egypt have won the competition a record seven times, including three in a row between 2006 and 2010. Cameroon and Ghana are the next most successful nations with four titles each.

Fourteen nations have won the Africa Cup at least once and eight of them, Algeria, Cameroon, DR Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Tunisia, will be in Gabon.

Ghana is the first nation to host and win the tournament and then go on to defend the title in the next edition – 1963 in Ghana and 1965 in Tunisia.

Only three West African sides have been able to lift the Nations Cup – Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

The Black Stars of Ghana have been finalists of the AFCON on 9 occasions – more than any other nation. Egypt is next with 8 finals played.

No other African nation has lost as many finals as Ghana – 5 finals played and lost in 1968, 1970, 1992, 2010 and 2015

Until 1982, when CAF reviewed their policy, only 2 foreign based players were allowed to play for any nation and before 1967, no foreign based player could feature in the tournament.

The 1970 final was the only one which had to be replayed as Zaire were held to a 2 – 2 draw by Zambia in the final. Two days later, Zaire defeated Zambia 2 – 0 at Cairo Stadium to claim the title.

Goals and Records

All Time Leading Goal Scorer – Samuel Eto’O Fills (Cameroon) with 18 Goals

Highest Goal Scorer in a tournament: Ndaye Mulamba (Congo) with 9 goals.

Most goals in a match: Laurent Pokou with 5 goals.

First Goal of the Tournament: Egyptian forward, Raafat Attia scored the first goal of the competition from the penalty spot against Sudan in 1957.

Most Goals by a Substitute: Mohamed Nagy of Egypt, scored 5 goals off the bench as he finished as the top scorer of 2010 edition cementing his name as the best substitute in history of the cup

In Tunisia in 2004, Nigerian legend, Jay-Jay Okocha converted from the spot against Cameroun to score the 1000th goal of the competition.

Ghanaian star, Mubarak Wakaso scored the 1500th goal of the tournament in 2015.

Goals have been scarce in recent finals with the last five producing three 1 – 0 scorelines and two 0 – 0 stalemates. The drawn deciders were won by Zambia and Ivory Coast after penalty shootouts.

Retired pair Rigobert Song of Cameroon and Hossam Hassan of Egypt share the record for Cup of Nations tournament appearances with eight each between 1996 and 2010.

Nigerian Factor

Nigeria has made 17 appearances and missed 14 AFCON editions. The green Eagles did not enter for the first two editions in 1957 and 1959.

Nigeria withdrew from 1962, 1965, 1970 and 1996. Following Nigeria’s failure to participate in South Africa in 1996, Nigeria was banned from participating in the 1998 edition in Burkina Faso. Nigeria failed to qualify in 1968, 1972, 1974, 1986, 2012, 2015 and 2017.

Nigeria is AFCON’s fourth best team having won the tournaments three times – 1980, 1994 and 2013

Nigeria have lost four times in the final, 1984, 1988, 1990, 2000, the second nation behind Ghana who have lost five times

Nigeria have won the most bronze titles. Finishing third 7 times, more than any other team – 19761978199220022004, 2006, 2010

The Late Stephen Keshi led the Super Eagles to win the country’s third AFCON title in 2013 and thus became the second person to win the Nations Cup as a player and Coach. The first and only Nigerian to have achieved the feat.

2017 Special

The 16 teams – Gabon, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Algeria Tunisia, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Morocco, Togo, Ghana, Mali, Uganda, Egypt

There are 24 Premier League Players involved in the 2017 Edition.

Essam El Hadary is the oldest player at the Africa Cup of Nations 2017. He is set to become the oldest to play in the tournament’s history. He is 43 years.

Senegal’s  18 years old  Ismaila Sarr is the youngest player at the Africa Cup of Nations 2017.

Uganda are returning to the Africa Cup of Nations after 39 years. They played their last game against Ghana in 1978 and will play their first after the return against Ghana in the AFCON 2017.

Al Ahly, with seven players are the club with the highest number of players in the tournament.

The Tunisian Ligue 1 is the African league with most players appearing at AFCON 2017. They have 17 players in total.

Only four of the AFCON 2017 countries have local indigenes as coaches. They are Zimbabwe, Senegal, Guinea Bissau and DR Congo.

Guinea Bissau is the only country without a locally based player in their squad while Tunisia have 14 locally based players in their squad – the most by any Nation in AFCON 2017.

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Author: Timilehin Boyinde

Oluwatimilehin Boyinde is a research writer and a social media strategist. A public affairs analyst, he writes about history, politics, sports, life matters and technology. He is passionate about happenings in Local and international political arenas. He is an avid Manchester United fan and an unapologetic Nigerian.