What is the African Nations Championship?
The African Nations Cup is one of the biggest international soccer tournaments on the planet. It involves the best national teams on the continent of Africa and is a biennial tournament – happening every two years. The event is sometimes referred to as the African Championship of Nations and has one very interesting stipulation: Every player that plays in the tournament must be active in their respective national championships and qualified to play in the ongoing domestic season.
The event is not to be confused with the Africa Cup of Nations – which allows African players from all over the world to compete – the tournament was first held in 2009, as a response to the ongoing departures of the continent’s finest talent to overseas clubs. It was used as a carrot to keep talented players in their native countries. It was not recognised by FIFA as international “first team” football until 2014.
Organised by the Confederation of African Football, the first incarnation was hosted by Ivory Coast and featured eight teams. Ensuing versions of the tournament were expanded to include 16 teams. The competition is sometimes referred to as the CHAN. With many African national teams struggling for funding, the event can be a lucrative one.
Champions DR Congo took home $750,000 in prize money last year, while runner-up Mali and third place getter Ivory Coast received $400,000 and $250,000. Big coin for a competition that does not feature elite level talent.
Where is the African Nations Championship held?
The African Nations Championship has obviously always been held on the African continent, but never in the same country. The 2018 event will be held in Kenya, while Ethiopia has been slated to be the host nation in 2020. Kenya will be the fifth time the event has been held and that nation is the only one that has automatically qualified, given it will host.
Former Football Kenya Federation president Sam Nyamweya is “very optimistic” the country will host a good tournament. Kenya has four stadium in three cities that will host the event and is in the process of spending more than $1 million on upgrades.
Interestingly, Kenya has never hosted a major event staged by the Confederation of African Football. In fact, it has never even qualified for the African Nations Championship and will only compete for the first time because it is the host nation.
Rwanda hosted the event this year – the first East African nation to do so – and CAF vice-president Almamy Kabele Camara believes Kenya can replicate that nation’s successful staging. While there is some disquiet that Kenya will not have enough time to be ready for the 2018 event, the nation’s current football federation boss, Nick Mwenda, has said there is no need for worry.
When is the African Nations Championship?
In 2018, the African Nations Championship will be held from January 11 to February 2. Qualification for the 2018 event will be held between June and October 2017, with 43 teams vying for the 16 spots.
How do teams qualify for the African Nations Championship?
The African continent is divided up into zones for the benefit of the tournament. The competition features 16 teams. Three teams are selected from each of these zones: Zone West B, Central Zone, Central-East Zone and Southern Zone. And then two more are selected from these two: North Zone and Zone West A. That makes 16 all up.
African Nations Championship tournament structure
The tournament is set up in two stages. It starts off in a group stage, with four pools of four teams – randomly drawn – playing against each other to go through to the knockout. The top two teams in each pool advance to the knockout stages and then play each other until there is only one left standing.
So it’s whittled down from 16, to eight, to four, with the final two teams playing off in the final.
Past African Nations Championship winners
DR Congo has bookended the four African Nations Championship events by winning both its first staging and its last. As the current champions, they are the only nation to have won the competition twice, indicating that its domestic competition is arguably the best in Africa. Known as the Leopards, DR Congo thrashed Mali in the final, with their star Mechak Elia bagging a brace, topped off by a late strike from Jonathan Bolingi.
2009: DR Congo defeated Ghana, 2-0
2011: Tunisia defeated Angola, 3-0
2014: Libya defeated Ghana, 4-3 on penalties (0-0 at full-time)
2016: DR Congo defeated Mali, 3-0
Past African Nations Championship hosts
2009: Ivory Coast
2014: South Africa
Most African Nations Championship wins
2: DR Congo
1: Libya, Tunisia
Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, DR Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritiana, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.