Several African greats have struggled in vain to secure the biggest international trophy up for grabs on the continent, the Africa Cup of Nations
The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is more than just a football tournament; it's a celebration of African talent, culture, and passion for the beautiful game. It's the stage where legends are made and dreams are realised.
However, football, in its unpredictable glory, often writes scripts that leave even the most talented players without the ultimate continental accolade. We highlight some of Africa's most celebrated footballers who, despite their remarkable careers, never had the fortune of lifting this coveted trophy.
1. Nwankwo Kanu - The Decorated Nigerian Legend
Nwankwo Kanu's legacy in football is immense. He is not only an icon in Nigerian football but also a celebrated figure in European clubs like Ajax, Inter Milan, and especially Arsenal. His technical skills, coupled with his height, gave him a unique edge in the game.
Despite his successes in club football and at the Olympics, Kanu's AFCON journey was marked with near misses. His most notable attempt was in 2000, where Nigeria reached the final only to lose to Cameroon in a penalty shootout. This moment was particularly poignant as it was a golden opportunity for Kanu to add an AFCON title to his illustrious career
2.Didier Drogba - Ivory Coast's Striking Maestro
Didier Drogba, widely regarded as one of the best African strikers of all time, had a storied career at Chelsea where he won numerous titles. However, his journey with the Ivory Coast national team at AFCON was marked by heartbreak.
He played in two finals (2006 and 2012), both ending in defeat on penalties. Drogba's international career was a case of so close yet so far, with Ivory Coast winning their next AFCON just a year after his retirement.
3.El-Hadji Diouf - Senegal's Fierce Forward
El-Hadji Diouf was known for his fiery demeanor and skillful play. He was a crucial part of Senegal's golden generation in the early 2000s, which included reaching the quarter-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
However, at AFCON, Diouf and his team couldn't go all the way, with their closest attempt being in 2002 when they lost to Cameroon in the final. This was a defining moment for Senegalese football, signaling their arrival as a force in African football, but not culminating in continental glory
4.Michael Essien - Ghana's Midfield Dynamo
Michael Essien's journey from Ghanaian football to becoming a star at Chelsea is a tale of resilience and talent.
Known for his energy and tackling ability, Essien was a key player for Ghana. In the 2010 AFCON, he was part of a formidable Ghanaian team that reached the final but eventually lost to Egypt. This was as close as Essien got to winning the AFCON, a title that would have been a fitting addition to his remarkable career
5.George Weah - The Ballon d'Or Winner from Liberia
George Weah's achievements in football are unparalleled among African players, highlighted by winning the Ballon d'Or. His international career with Liberia, however, was hindered by the limited resources and footballing infrastructure in his home country.
Weah managed to lead Liberia to two AFCON tournaments, but they could not progress beyond the group stages. His lack of international team success starkly contrasts with his individual accolades and showcases the challenges faced by footballers from smaller nations
6. Asamoah Gyan - Ghana's Record-Breaking Striker
Asamoah Gyan is notable for his scoring record with the Ghanaian national team and his performances in multiple World Cups.
However, his AFCON tale is one of near-successes, with the team reaching the finals in 2010 and 2015 but failing to secure the title. Gyan's international career is marked by his crucial goals and leadership but also by the elusive nature of the AFCON trophy
7.Emmanuel Adebayor - Togo's Striking Sensation
Emmanuel Adebayor, known for his time in the English Premier League, particularly with Arsenal and Manchester City, had a significant impact for Togo.
Despite his scoring prowess and status as the 2008 African Player of the Year, Adebayor couldn't lead Togo to AFCON glory. His best achievement was reaching the quarter-finals in 2013, highlighting the challenges faced by smaller footballing nations at the continental level
8. Frederick Kanoute - Mali's Prolific Forward
Frederick Kanoute, another Premier League veteran, particularly known for his time at Sevilla, was a key figure for Mali.
Awarded the African Footballer of the Year in 2007, Kanoute's best performance at AFCON was in 2004, where he helped Mali reach the semi-finals. His achievements at club level did not quite translate into continental success with the national team.
9. Mustapha Hadji - Moroccan Playmaker
Hadji Mustapha's brilliance was evident during the 1998 FIFA World Cup, but his AFCON journey with Morocco did not yield the ultimate prize.
His playmaking skills and vision on the field were well acknowledged, yet his efforts at AFCON did not culminate in a championship for Morocco. His career remains marked by his contributions to Moroccan football, both in skill and leadership, but without an AFCON title to crown it
10. Mohamed Salah - The Egyptian King
Egypt’s Mohamed Salah is one of the more unlucky players on the list as he is widely regarded as one of the greatest African players ever, and also hails from the country with the most AFCON wins, but has never gotten his hands on the trophy.
The Liverpool legend has been a losing finalist at AFCON twice. In 2017 against Cameroon and on penalties in 2022 against Senegal. Salah’s story is not completely written however, as he could still get the chance to represent his country at future AFCON tournaments
These ten players, despite their absence of an AFCON title, have significantly impacted African football. Their stories illustrate not only their individual brilliance but also the diverse challenges and dynamics of football on the continent. Their legacies are defined by their immense contributions to the sport, inspiring future generations of African footballers.