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banner Friday, 14 December, 2001, 13:19 GMT
How it all began
Ivory Coast's team celebrate their Nations Cup win
Ivory Coast were surprise winners in 1992
By BBC Sport Online's Durosimi Thomas

In February 1957, beneath the heat of the Nubian Desert in Sudan, few could have predicted the expansion of the African Nations Cup.

That was precisely the aim of a meeting between seven delegates in Lisbon the previous year.

There the Confederation of African Football was formed and the organisation planned the first tournament for the following year in Khartoum.

However, as the start date drew near, there were a few hurdles to overcome, such as the exclusion of South Africa after the apartheid regime failed to approve a multi-racial team.

Nigeria won the Cup of Nations in 1980
Nigeria celebrate their victory in 1980
So with South Africa out, the tournment came down to a play-off between just three teams - Egypt, hosts Sudan and Ethiopia.

Ironically, 39 years later, at the end of apartheid, South Africa returned to rescue Caf by staging the expanded 16-team event after Kenya withdrew as hosts.

Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia played the first two tournaments in odd years before it increased to four, six, eight, 12 and then 16 teams.

Every adjustment increased the chances of seeing the best players in the continent.

Papa Camara, Petit Sory and Cherif Souleymane were the cream of an excellent Guinean side who could easily be compared to the devastating Nigerian and Cameroonian squads of the last decade.

Few Africans today would have heard of the Algerian Lalmas, Ghanaian dribbling wizard Osei Kofi or Ethiopian captain Italo Vassalo - they were among a host of legends to play in the Nations Cup tournaments of the 1960s.

Since the early days, North Africa - and Ghana in particular - has maintained its reputation, while the other pioneers Ethiopia and Sudan have deteriorated.

Ghanaian fan
The Nations Cup finals are always colourful affairs
In the space of 30 years there has been an amazing shift of power - a classic between Ethiopia and Sudan (both former champions) in the 1960s is now overshadowed by a match between Cameroon against Nigeria.

And while there have been many highlights, few African Nations Cup tournaments have taken place without any problems.

Indeed Mali, the latest hosts, have had their own difficulties in getting the tournament off the ground.

As one of Africa's poorest nations, many felt the money poured into hosting the sporting extravaganza could be better spent.

One thing is certain, though - that Caf and the Nations Cup is still in existence is due to the passion for the game on the African continent.

BBC Sport's Adrian Hobart
"The first tournament was made up of just three teams"
See also:

04 Dec 01 |  Cup of Nations
Four bids for CAN 2006
25 Sep 01 |  Africa
Nations Cup trophy revealed
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