Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

The Greatest Players in Africa Cup of Nations History

Posted on 9 January 2022 by Yara El-Shaboury
Africa Cup of Nations trophy / Credit: Creative Commons

The Africa Cup of Nations, Africa’s biggest football tournament, parades all the best players Africa offers.

The 33rd edition of the men’s tournament is underway in Cameroon with 24 teams vying for the prize.

Almost all of Africa’s best players have competed in the tournament, at one point or another. But not all have been able to make their mark on the tournament.

So here are our first four greatest AFCON players in history. 

Rashidi Yekini – Nigeria

AFCON WIN(S): 1 [1994]

Nigeria’s team in the early ’90s is considered one of the greatest African teams of all time, and Rashidi Yekini was far and away the standout of that team.

Africa’s produced several great goal-scorers, but what separated Yekini from the rest is that he has the honours to back it up.

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Nicknamed the Bull of Kaduna, Yekini scored five goals and won player of the tournament during the Super Eagles triumph at the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations.

 

The same year, he led Nigeria to the World Cup and scored the country’s first-ever goal at the tournament in a 3-0 win over Bulgaria.

Despite only winning AFCON once, Yekini is a proper legend of the tournament; he made a total of five tournament appearances at AFCON, making the finals four times.

He’s also one of only six players to be the top scorer of the tournament twice, scoring four goals in the 1992 tournament, where Nigeria came in third.

Rigobert Song – Cameroon

AFCON WIN(S): 2 [2000, 2002]

Rigobert Song was a player whose talent was on display from early on.

He surprisingly got a call-up to the Cameroonian national team at 17 years old to represent the team at the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

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At the tournament, he became the youngest player to get a red card at a World Cup. He repeated the mistake in 1998, making him and Zinedine Zidane the only two players to have been sent off in two different World Cups.

Despite the occasional recklessness on the pitch, Song’s longevity was a crucial piece to the Cameroon national team.

He is the most-capped player of all time for the Indomitable Lions with 137 appearances to his name.

Song played in astonishing editions eight consecutive AFCONs between 1996 and 2010, the joint-most along with Ahmed Hassan (who we’ll get to later).

The Cameroonian defender captained his side to victory twice within those eight appearances. He scored the last penalty in a decisive shootout against Nigeria in the 2000 final, and was part of a defence that did not concede a single goal during their 2002 victory.

Samuel Eto’o – Cameroon

AFCON WIN(S): 2 [2000, 2002]

You can’t mention Song’s defensive contributions to that Cameroonian side without mentioning Samuel Eto’o’s offensive contributions at the other end of the pitch.

Eto’o was the complete striker. He was known for his quickness, technical skills, and ability in the air, all of which made him the star of the Cameroon side which won two AFCON trophies.

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He also clinched the Golden Boot in 2006 and 2008, scoring five goals both times.

To this day, Eto’o is AFCON’s all-time top goal-scorer with 18 goals and is his country’s all-time leading scorer and third most capped player, with 56 goals in 118 appearances.

Ahmed Hassan – Egypt

AFCON WIN(S): 4 [1998, 2006, 2008, 2010]

You can’t mention the Africa Cup of Nations without mentioning Egypt, the most successful nation in the cup’s history, winning the tournament seven times.

Egypt also are the only team to win the tournament three times consecutively.

And while there are several players who one could argue were better for Egypt during their golden era, no one was as influential, and as great, as Ahmed Hassan.

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Known for his passing and playmaking, Hassan’s second AFCON appearance was in 1998, where he opened the scoring during the final in the 5th minute.

He led his side to the 2006 victory on home soil, scoring four goals and winning player of the tournament, and captained Egypt again in their 2008 win.

Hassan’s eighth and final Africa Cup of Nations appearance came in 2010, where he was once again named player of the tournament at the age of 34. Two years later, he retired from the national team with 184 appearances, making him the third most-capped international male footballer in history.

Over the years, there have been so many great African players, but none were able to conquer the Africa Cup of Nations quite like these four did.