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AFCON: Greatest matches

The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Ivory Coast on Saturday 13th January when the hosts play Guinea-Bissau and the month-long tournament should provide the usual thrills and spills before the continent’s top team is crowned.

It will be the 34th tournament since the inaugural event in 1957 and Senegal are the defending champions after their penalty-shootout win over Egypt in the 2021 final. 

Here is a list of five of the greatest games to have graced the tournament in chronological order.

Egypt 6-3 Nigeria - 1963

The highest scoring game in AFCON history came in 1963 in Nigeria’s first appearance at the finals and although their game against Egypt featured nine goals, not one of them arrived in the first half an hour.

However, Nigeria fell apart just before the interval as Morsi Hussein Reda scored two quick-fire efforts and his fellow forward Hassan Ahmed El Shazly was on hand to net another two before the interval.

Then came a flurry of goals in the last 18 minutes. Asquo Ekpe scored for the Super Eagles but that only brought the Pharaohs back to life as El Shazly scored two more goals late on.

There was still time for Joseph Bassey and Albert Onyeawuna to score for Nigeria, although the victory did not prove the springboard for success that Egypt were looking for as they finished the six-team tournament in third place, beating Ethiopia in a play-off. 

Zaire 2-2 Zambia - 1974

The 1974 final between Zaire and Zambia turned into a real thriller and a replay was required to decide the winner.

Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) were regarded as favourites against a team who were playing in their first competition and they looked as if they had done enough to come out of top when Ndaya Mulamba gave them a 2-1 lead with three minutes remaining in extra-time.

However, Brighton Sinyangwe claimed a draw with the last kick of the game and it was decided the two teams would have to go through the whole thing again just two days later.

Zaire came out on top with Mulamba scoring both goals in a 2-0 win and his tally of nine goals in that campaign remains a tournament record.

His team went on to the World Cup in West Germany that year, where they lost all three of their group games against Brazil, Yugoslavia and Scotland.

Angola 4-4 Mali - 2010

The most stunning comeback in the competition’s history came in the opening match of the 2010 tournament between hosts Angola and Mali.

Angola looked to be cruising when two headers from Flavio gave them a 2-0 lead at the interval and they looked on course for an opening victory when Mali then conceded two penalties in the second half, which were converted by Gilberto and Manucho.

However, what they did not account for was what happened in a dramatic final 11 minutes, which will live long in the memory of supporters of both sides for very different reasons.

Barcelona’s Seydou Keita bundled in what appeared to be a consolation goal but the Malians had their tails up after Frederic Kanoute scored shortly afterwards.

Angolan fans had already left to start celebrating their victory, but the unthinkable happened when first Keita and then Mustapha Yatabore scored from close range in injury time to force the most unlikely of draws.

Zambia 0-0 Ivory Coast (Zambia win 8-7 on penalties) - 2012

It may seem unusual to add a goalless draw to a list like this but Zambia’s 2012 final victory over Ivory Coast was drama personified.

The venue of Libreville in Gabon was only a few miles from where 18 members of the Zambian national team had been killed in a plane crash in 1993, so there was plenty of emotional support for the Copper Bullets against a star-studded Elephants line-up that included Kolo and Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and many other familiar Premier League names.

Drogba had missed the chance to put Ivory Coast ahead on the hour when he blasted a penalty over the bar following a foul on Gervinho and it would have been enough to land the trophy as the teams could not be separated after 120 minutes.

All of the first 14 penalties were scored before Kolo Toure had his kick saved by Kennedy Mweene, who had already netted Zambia’s fifth.

Rainford Kalaba could not win it for Zambia but after Gervinho skied his kick into the crowd, Stoppila Sunzu scored to be the Copper Bullets hero.

Madagascar 2-0 Nigeria - 2019

One of the biggest shocks in the competition’s history came in 2019.

Few gave Madagascar much hope of making any kind of impression in their tournament debut as the least populous country to have ever made it to the finals, but they shocked everyone by winning Group B despite being ranked 108th in the world.

Their win over three-time winners Nigeria was particularly impressive as the Super Eagles were 63 places above them in the FIFA standings.

It did not take them long to establish control as Lalina Nomenjanahary latched onto a defensive mistake to give the outsiders a 13th-minute lead.

They were then able to double their advantage when a free kick from Carolus Andriamatsinoro was inadvertently deflected in by Wilfried Ndidi.

That success helped them top the group with seven points from their three games but, after a penalty-shootout win over Dr Congo, the dream ended when they were beaten 3-0 by Tunisia in the quarter-finals.

Any odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.

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