What is the Cup of African Nations?

Also called the African Nations Cup (or either ANC or CAN – it’s still finding its feet, acronym-wise) the championship is the most prominent international association football competition in Africa. To people unfamiliar with the format of the Cup competitions, substituting ‘African Nations’ for ‘World’ should give some idea of what’s going on.

When is the Cup held?

This year’s Cup is being held in Angola, and began on Sunday with the hosts playing the large West African country, Mali. The competition started in 1957 and has been held every two years since 1968.

It was last held in 2008 across a number of locations in Ghana. 2008’s Cup was again won by Egypt, the most successful team in the Cup’s history. There were 99 goals scored across the last tournament, a figure which made it the most goal-filled African Nations Cup in history.

As the tournament occurs during the football season (August – May) many of the players choose to or are obliged to leave the European leagues for participation in the Cup of Nations. This includes premiership greats such as Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Alexandre Song, Emmanuel Eboue and Emmaneuel Adebayor.

Why is making quite so many headlines?

On Friday, the Togolese team – including Manchester City’s Emmanuel Adebayor – were attacked en route from their training ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The attack took place in the northern enclave of Cabinda, Angola and the machine gun fire led to the deaths of three people; the Togolese assistant coach, Togolese team’s press officer and their Angolan coach driver. Consequently, the Togolese team have – under instruction from their President – abandoned the tournament, leaving the remaining fifteen qualified teams to continue in Angola.

The attack has been attributed to Front for the Liberation of the State of Cabinda (Flec), a faction of the Cabinda separatist rebel group. It has claimed responsibility for the 30-minute machine-gun attack. Two men have been arrested. Another Flec faction had previously claimed responsibility.

How has the attack affected the tournament?

Such controversy has overshadowed the Nations Cup, and the questions which surround it in the European press are linked more closely with African politics than the emerging footballing talent. After 30 years of civil war, the Championships represented a chance for Angola – and the politically turbulent area of Africa in which it is located – to change global opinion and establish the area positively in the world press. Perhaps even more crucially, it has in some ways taken away from the decision to locate this year’s World Cup in Africa; something which is a momentous move for both football in Africa and worldwide.

After beginning with only three participating nations in 1957, the African Cup has seen its fair share of political conflict and intrigue. South Africa hosted the Cup in 1996, which also formed their first ever appearance after a ban (which lasted a decade) was lifted along with the end of apartheid in the country, followed by a failed attempt at qualifying in 1994.

Can CAN recover?

Most people are saying that this depends on how good the sport is. The tournament began on Sunday with an astounding match between the host nation and Mali. Angola were leading 4-0 with 11 minutes left of the match, but Mali managed to pull back and make it a draw at 4-4. Many argue that such exciting football has, and will, quell the fire surrounding the Togolese shooting. With African footballers coming to prominence in all the European leagues, there is a sense that the talent should come to the forefront of the political controversy.