African Legends go down AFCON success memory lane

* From the 90s until 2000, Nigeria dominated not only Africa, but the world had respect for the nation’s football—Nwankwo Kanu

* Nelson Mandela was a huge factor in our belief in 1996 after the 1995 Rugby World Cup win—Neil Tovey

Maravi Express

Ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 final this evening, between Nigeria and the hosts Côte d’Ivoire, African football legends — who had the honour of lifting Africa’s most coveted piece of silverware — shared their intimate experiences of the continental football showpiece.


The legends, which included AFCON-winning captains, share some of the most memorable experiences of the competition, as well as touch on the success of the 34th edition of the tournament set to conclude this evening at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Epimbe, Abidjan.

Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria)

“Losing at home in 2000 was not very nice. For us we knew that we wanted it – it is not something good for a footballer to lose a final.

“From the 90s until 2000, Nigeria dominated not only Africa, but the world had respect for the nation’s football. Every other country was afraid of us because of the talent, the force, flair and system. We as players knew that we were good.

“So, for me the 1996 squad was one of the best. If you look at the 1996 squad, we beat Mexico, we beat Brazil and that’s how good we were.”

Neil Tovey (South Africa)

“We had no idea how big the tournament was — we knew that we were an emerging nation but did not have any dream of making the knockout of final. It was about starting the tournament on a good note and our opening against Cameroon was important.

“Nelson Mandela was a huge factor in our belief after the 1995 Rugby World Cup win. In 1996, we felt compelled to do something for South Africa.”

Abedi Pele (Ghana)

“It has been a great Côte d’Ivoire AFCON. We have seen the excellence and work done by Ivorians which has been wonderful. They’ve done an amazing organisation.

“They’ve shown that they have prepared fully for this endeavor. After tomorrow’s match, we can confirm the wonderful work done by the Ivorians and CAF.

“Football develops every day. It changes from positioning, training ground and how they perform. It has changed for the good of the game. That has made the game a little bit quicker and little bit efficient. There have been dramatic changes.”

Hossam Hassan (Egypt)

“The last time I won the AFCON was in 2006– this is one of the best football competitions in the world. I was fortunate to play against the best on the continent such as Roger Milla from my earlier playing days with Egypt.

“My fondest memory is captaining the squad in 2006. In 1998, even the Egyptian fans did not believe we could win this cup. We played the final against Bafana Bafana, a strong team. It was one of the best tournaments and I was one of the best strikers alongside Benni McCarthy.”

Riadh Bouazizi (Tunisia)

“Côte d’Ivoire owe it to their fans to win the cup. Nigeria has less pressure so and they will play with less pressure. In my opinion, the Ivorian team when you rise from the dead, it is harder to die once again.

“It will be a great game and with the spirit seen, I know that they will give it their all and I hope we will enjoy quality football, fair-play and sportsmanship.

“During our time, we were very confident in our ability even though we had to face Morocco. We had a lot of willingness to win this AFCON and we did not want any nation to win this AFCON but us, this really drove our success when we won it.”

Daniel Amokachi (Nigeria)

“When you have legends like Rashidi Yekini that sat us down and guided us in knowing the importance of representing your country, that’s when we woke up.

Ninety percent of the players were hand-picked by Clemens Westerhof who travelled around the country to unearth raw talent. In 2013, Stephen Keshi was a big factor in us winning the tournament and our big man, Joseph Yobo.

“Experience played a big role. We all know what we went through. Sitting next to Stephen Keshi was an experience and he molded me to be the way I was. He taught me how to transition from being a player to a coach.”

Lucas Radebe (South Africa)

“For us the timing, the timing was perfect because we played at a time when South Africa was in reconstruction, and we were new to the international scene.

“The Madiba Nelson Mandela factor helped because we had a lot to play for. If you ask a lot of players to tell you their role models today, they will tell you about various role football role models but for us, it was Madiba.

“When we were told that Madiba was coming to see us in camp, we woke up at 5am. He came at about 6h30am. When he got into the room, we just froze with big lumps in our throats.

“He had such an aura and helped us realize who we were. As soon as he left, we were ready to go out and fight for our country like he did.”

Chris Katongo (Zambia)

Everyone knows about the sad story of the passing of our entire national team in Gabon. When the announcement was made that the play was at Gabon, we made the decision that this is where we need to win this tournament.

“I went to the river where they lost their lives, and we made it a point that we win this tournament. I knew that when it is in Gabon, I knew that it was our time and if we don’t win it there, we will never win it ever again.”

Joseph Yobo (Nigeria)

“The Big Boss [Stephen Keshi] was so influential as a person and coach. Big figure not only for Nigeria and Africa but for me personally.

“He had elements of surprise and that helped us with winning in 2013. When you sat with him, you could tell that he had winning mentality and helped us believe in ourselves. For me Stephen Keshi was a huge figure for football but as human being, even much better.”

Benjamin Moukandjo (Cameroon)

“We went into the tournament not as favourites. In 2015, we had a terrible competition and 2017 no one believed in us because these were difficult times for Cameroonian footabll.

“A number of players did not join the squad, but we were able to build a squad with players who wanted to join the team. It is thanks to the squad that we won this trophy and I believe that this is why we were able to win this AFCON.

“Winning the AFCON is great especially when no one is expecting you to. The feeling is indescribable — we had to eliminate Senegal, Ghana and Egypt in the final.

“In the history of AFCON, Egypt had beaten us so many times and we had to break the cycle.—Reporting by CAFonline