From past to present: AFCON draws shape African football history

* It’s not just about determining groups. It’s about igniting dreams and setting the stage for heroes to emerge

* Since the tournament’s inception in 1957, the draws have evolved from simple affairs

* To grand spectacles, often reflecting the growing stature of African football on the global stage

Maravi Express

The stage is set for another pivotal moment in African football as Johannesburg, South Africa, prepares to host the draw for the qualifiers of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Morocco 2025 on Thursday.


This event marks the latest chapter in the rich history of the AFCON draws, which have been shaping the continent’s footballing landscape for decades.

Since the tournament’s inception in 1957, the draws have evolved from simple affairs to grand spectacles, often reflecting the growing stature of African football on the global stage.

Each draw is not just a procedural necessity but a spectacle of its own, often marking the beginning of intense rivalries, surprising underdog stories, and record-breaking journeys.

George Weah, the only African to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award, once said of the CAF AFCON draw process: “It’s not just about determining groups — it’s about igniting dreams and setting the stage for heroes to emerge.”

George Weah

While the main draw is the biggest attraction globally, the qualifying draw also provides excitement for football fans across the continent as it gives the sides considered as minnows the chance to stun established giants and make history.

Indeed, past draws have often foreshadowed dramatic narratives. The 2012 draw, for instance, placed Zambia in a group with co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and few could have predicted then that Zambia would go on to win their first-ever AFCON title in a fairytale run.

One of the most memorable main tournament draws occurred in 2013 AFCON in South Africa in which the host nation found themselves in a group with Angola, Morocco, and Cape Verde.

The Blue Sharks, considered minnows at the time, shocked the continent by advancing to the quarter-finals, demonstrating the unpredictable nature of AFCON draws.

The 2013 draw preceded a tournament that saw Nigeria claim their third title, with Stephen Keshi becoming only the second person to win the AFCON as both a player and a coach.

Stephen Keshi

Another memorable moment came during the draw ahead of the 2006 AFCON hosted by Egypt that saw the eventual champions, Egypt, placed in a challenging group with Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, and Libya.

This draw set the tone for one of the most exciting tournaments in history, culminating in Egypt claiming their fifth title on home soil to edge past Ghana as record title holders.

This year’s draw, to be held at the SuperSport studios in Johannesburg, promises to be no different; with 48 nations, including preliminary round winners Chad, eSwatini, Liberia and South Sudan, the draw will determine the groups for the qualifiers, setting the stage for the tournament in Morocco.

Reigning champions Côte d’Ivoire, along with African powerhouses such as Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, Cameroon and Algeria, await their fate alongside emerging teams eager to make their mark.


Thursday’s draw will see the 48 nations drawn into 12 groups of four teams each, with the qualifiers scheduled to kick off in September to determine the 24 nations that will compete in Morocco in 2025.

The draw represents the first step on the road to what promises to be a spectacular tournament in a country with a deep passion for the sport.

Meanwhile, Confederation of African Football (CAF) executive committee announced on June 21 that the AFCON Morocco 2025 will be played from December 21, 2025 to January 18, 2026 — as opposed to the usual period of January-February.

A press release from CAF published on CAFonline quoted CAF Patrice Motsepe as saying the announcement of the dates of the AFCON Morocco 2025 took much longer than expected, as there were complex and at times challenging discussions with various interested parties, in the light of the extensive international and domestic match calendars.

Patrice Motsepe (left)

“CAF is committed to protecting and advancing the interests of African players, playing in football clubs in Europe and worldwide,” he was quoted as saying. “CAF is also committed to building mutually beneficial relationships with the ECA, UEFA, other Football Confederations and FIFA.

“We will continue to make significant progress in developing and ensuring that African football is globally competitive and amongst the best in the World.”

It will be a roller coaster run from this year till November during the AFCON qualifiers as they will be intensely played alongside the FIFA World Cup 2026™, which after Matchday 4, remains with six more games to be played in 2025 (March, September, October and November).

The AFCON Morocco 2025, will be played through this year as well as alongside the FIFA World Cup 2026™ qualifiers but the finals will be held in 2026.

The year naming of the editions got changed due to disruptions caused by the CoVID-19 — thus the 2020 was played in 2021 in Cameroon and the 2023 in 2024 in Côte d’Ivoire.

For the Flames, their next six games for the Group H of the FIFA World Cup 2026™ are three at home — against Equatorial Guinea and fellow COSAFA member, Namibia  Liberia — with the other three away against São Tomé e Principe, Tunisia and Namibia.

First will be against Namibia followed by away to Tunisia both in March 2025 before meeting Namibia again away and Liberia at home — both in September.

Then in October, the Flames will host Equatorial Guinea before traveling to confront São Tomé e Principe, whom they beat 3-1 at Bingu National Stadium in this June’s Matchday 3 before losing 0-1 in Matchday 4 away to Equatoguineans.

Having won 1-0 in their opening campaign away to Liberia, losing 0-1 at home against Tunisia, the Flames are 4th in Group H in the race for the FIFA World Cup 2026™ to be hosted jointly by the United States of America, Mexico and Canada.

The 23rd edition finals will have 48 participating countries instead of the conventional 32 giving an advantage for Africa to field more teams and the top team from each of the nine groups after Match Day 10 shall earn an automatic qualification.

The four best second-placed and top ranked teams from all nine groups will engage in a continental playoff, determining a single victor who will then proceed to a second and final playoff. 

This final stage will comprise six teams from various confederations, with the top two emerging as qualified participants, ultimately making up the 48 competing teams.

Headlining the confirmed nations for the AFCON Morocco 2025 draw are reigning African champions Côte d’Ivoire joined by usual favorites ahead of the finals such as North Africans Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria; West African Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal.

From the Council of Confederation of Southern Africa Football Association (COSAFA) are Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Angola, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Madagascar.

The others include Benin, Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé e Principe, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda.—Reporting by CAFonline, editing by Maravi Express