The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations promises to be one of the most open in recent history. Ivory Coast, defending champions, are widely considered favorites to defend the title they won in such cathartic fashion in 2015. Not since Egypt’s triptych in the latter part of the noughties has any team repeated consecutively.
The Afcon does tend to alternate between decades of dynasty and anarchy. Egypt won the first two editions in the 1957 and 1959, but only made one final in the following decade. There, Ghana secured two titles and one runners-up spot, before the 70s served up five different winners.
The 80s undoubtedly belonged to Cameroon, with two victories and a second-place finish to Egypt in 1986. What followed was the chaos of the 90s, as Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, South and Egypt all were crowned champions within two years of each other; interestingly, only Egypt even managed to contest the final of the edition following their win.
The 2000s opened with a Cameroon double, followed by the quirkiest of blips in the form of a Tunisia win, and then Egypt ground their feet into the neck of Africa till the decade came to an end.
The pattern is clear enough, but the reason for it is not. Dynasties take time to build, but how to explain the alternating decades? AFCON of course is played in a two-year cycle, which makes it even harder to grasp: by such constant exposure, it is easier to implement reform.
In a quadrennial tournament, all of that preparation builds up to one month, from which conclusions are drawn and decisions are taken which can only be appraised after another four-year wait.
Perhaps it is simply the nature of things, that while chaos cannot reign unabated, even order and concomitant power can corrupt its bearer and lead to complacency.
Only Egypt and Ghana have managed an Afcon victory in the decade immediately following their span of dominance, and those came in the very first and last tournaments of the noughties and 70s respectively; once a dynasty is broken down, it never quite asserts itself in the same way.
As an anecdotal trend, it is fascinating to observe, and would seem to suggest that Ivory Coast will not be repeating their victory from two years ago. To do so would be to break another hoodoo, and it remains to be seen if they have as much emotional energy to expend this time, having come through that wringer of a penalty shoot-out against Ghana.
This decade has seen Zambia, Nigeria and the Elephants claim glory. The former two are absent in Gabon, and so the field is open indeed. Egypt are back after a three-tournament absence, but this perhaps comes too soon for them.
Whisper it quietly, but this period of chaos is perhaps the Black Stars’ best chance to win a fifth title and break their own long-running jinx. Ghana have got to the last four of the last five Nations Cups, and have an experienced team, as well the same manager from the last time around.