By Patrick Omorodion
When the African Nations Cup started in 1957, only four countries namely Egypt, EthiopiaÂ and host, Sudan were participants. The fourth country, South Africa could not join because they were disqualified owing to their apartheid policy.
The competition began on an odd number year, 1957 but the third edition could not hold in 1961 but held a year later in 1962. The fourth edition held just a year after in 1963 in Ghana to bring it back to the odd number years.
Again after the 1965 edition in Tunisia where Ghana defended the title successively, the competition took a three year break with the fifth edition holding in the Congo Democratic Republic in 1968 and since then it has always held every two even number years.
Because of the small number of participants in 1957, it went into straight semi final with Egypt battling Sudan after Ethiopia drew bye. Egypt triumphed 2-1 over Sudan on February 10,1957 and six days later in the final, Egypt trounced Ethiopia 4-0 to become the first winner of the continental title.
After that inaugural edition, the competition has been held 26 times and the 27th edition gets underway in Angola tomorrow. From three teams in 1957, participating teams have risen from eight to 12 and then 16.
Egypt are the most successful country in the Nations Cup history with six wins, the last being the 26th edition in Accra, Ghana where they pipped Cameroon 1-0 in a hard fought final, making them the beginning and the end so far, 1957 and 2008.
As 16 teams begin hostilities, the question on every lip will be which country will succeed Egypt as African Champions, or will they hold on to the title for an unprecedented seventh victory?
Ironically, Egypt are drawn in the same group with Nigeria, Benin Republic and Mozambique and because they failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, the Pharaohs see the Nations Cup as one they must hold on to.
And they donâ€™t feel any team, not even Nigeriaâ€™s Super Eagles who they play first in the Angolan city of Benguela on January 12, 2010, would stop them from qualifying from the group and going ahead to clinch the title.
Whether the Eagles can stop them on Tuesday or not will be determined after 90 minutes but many Nigerians are sceptical about their chances following the manner of selection of players and the drop of Tunisia-based Michael Eneramo who many of them adjudged better than Yakubu Aiyegbeni.
Obafemi Martins who was chosen ahead Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi before his last minute inclusion is just recovering from injury and is expected to appear in a London court over a financial issue a day before the tie against Egypt. The NFF has not said whether he will be able to make it to London and back for the match.
Osaze Odemwingie who many see as the live wire of the team following his aggressive posture on the pitch was reported to have picked an injury during a friendly match in Durban and may not be in his best element to harass the Egyptian defenders.
If the Eagles must play with less pressure and survive from their group, they must post a positive result from the first match against Egypt who will equally play to win or draw to be comfortable in the group.
With a semi final target given Shaibu Amodu by the Nigeria Football Association, NFF, Amodu may not be unnecessarily ambitious to go for the trophy which Nigeria won for the last time in Tunisia in 1994.
Even though Sports minister/Chairman of the National Sports Commission, NSC, Engineer Sani Ndanusa says the government will not accept anything less than the cup from the Sani Lulu-led NFF Board, Amodu may not be perturbed by it as he has said he would use the Nations Cup to prepare for the World Cup coming up in South Africa later in the year.