AFCON 2023: Ranking the Top 6 Biggest Controversies in the History of AFCON

AFCON 2023: Ranking the Top 6 Biggest Controversies in the History of AFCON

Jarryd Westerdale
updated at January 6, 2024 at 10:21 AM
In this article:
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  • AFCON 2023 kicks off on January 13 with fans prepared for any eventuality
  • AFCON seldom begins or concludes without controversial moments on or off the field
  • Political interference, conspiracies, infighting and crazy referees have all made an appearance

Tournaments are all about drama on the field and in the streets.

With being crowned the champion of the continent on the line, the unimaginable motivation pushes players and officials to the edge of reason.

History may be written by the victors, but the losers must live with the glorious failures etched into lore.

Anthony Baffoe, Kanu, Okocka, Nigeria, Janny Sikazwe, AFCON, controversy..
The Africa Cup of Nations has had a long list of controversy throughout its history. Photos: @Ghanasoccernet, @NigeriaStories and @NzeEkirungi.
Source: Twitter

Sports Briefs digs up the biggest controversies surrounding the competition from the mid-eighties to the last tournament in 2021.

The Top 6 AFCON controversies

6. Ghana's 1992 captaincy fight

The Black Stars had made the final for the 1992 AFCON and were gunning for their fifth title, with Ivory Coast standing in their way.

Regular captain Abedi Ayew was suspended for the final with Tony Yeboah expected to lead the Black Stars to victory.

Yeboah claimed favouritism and instructions from Accra led to Anthony Baffoe donning the armband. Speaking 28 years after the incident, Yeboah told journalist Kwabena Yeboah:

"Everybody was shocked and it affected the team. I was a little bit angry. I tried to score, I hit the bar, it wasn’t working and we lost the final.”

The final went to a marathon penalty shootout which Ivory Coast won 11-10. In a poetic twist, Anthony Baffoe was the man who missed the decisive penalty.

5. A conspiratorial draw

Final group stage matches throw up a host of permutations. A forty-year-old incident lives in the memory of those accused of conspiring to oust their foes.

Algerian midfielder Mohammed Shoaib confessed in 2012 that his team conspired with Ghana's arch-rivals to eliminate them from the 1984 AFCON. Shoaib's admission was published by GhanaSoccerNet, which stated:

"We made a deal with Nigeria to end the game with a draw and they moved with us to the semifinal."

4. The 2000 final penalty shootout

Two West African powerhouses played out the first final of the new millennium. Samuel Eto'o and Patrick M'boma gave Cameroon a 2-0 first-half lead before Raphael Chukwu and Jay-Jay Okocha drew Nigeria level.

In a penalty shootout that still pains Super Eagles fans today, the linesman missed Victor Ikpeba's penalty creeping over the line after it struck the crossbar and bounced out, gifting Cameroon another AFCON title.

3. Overage Cameroonian

Without a ball having even been kicked in Ivory Coast, The Indominatbel Lions will face scrutiny when they hand an AFCON debut to a 'teenager'.

The topic has been one on the continent for decades and Cameroon recently dropped 32 players from a youth tournament after being found to have been overage, as reported by CNN.

Wilfried Douala's thick facial hair and receding hairline are advanced for his claimed 17 years but perhaps the derision will prove unfounded.

2. Nigeria's mid-nineties boycott and ban

The political complexity of Nigeria's decision not to attend the 1996 AFCON is polarising and goes well beyond football, but not having the defending champions at the tournament was a massive loss.

Hosts South Africa won the tournament and while they beat Ghana 3-0 in the semi-final, never tested themselves against the best.

For not participating, Nigeria were banned from the 1998 tournament where South Africa again made the final. The Super Eagles returned in 2000, dispatching South Africa 2-0 in the semi-final.

1. Mali vs Tunisia referee in 2021

Referees are deserved pinatas at the best of times but no referee upholds the great name of the official like Janny Sikazwe.

The Zambian oversaw the most farcical performances ever given when he blew for full-time twice in five minutes, while also giving questionable penalties to each team earlier in the game and a red card in between the final whistles.

The explanation given for the 85th-minute final whistle by Sports Illustrated suggests Sikazwe forgot to stop his watch during a water break. However, his second came in the 89th minute and ended the game for good.

Mali scored their penalty in this opening group game and went on to win the group but lost to Equatorial Guinea in the Round of 16.

Tunisia finished third in the group and beat Nigeria 1-0 in the Round of 16 before losing 1-0 to Burkina Faso in the quarter-finals. Sikazwe continues as a professional referee.

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Jarryd Westerdale photo
Jarryd Westerdale
Jarryd Westerdale (based in Johannesburg) joined Sports Brief after four years in the community journalism sphere. He is a two-time Alet Roux Award winner and was a finalist in multiple categories at the Forum of Community Journalism Excellence Awards.