Who are the greatest players in Africa Cup of Nations history?

Almost all of Africa's greatest football players contested the Africa Cup of Nations during their career, but not all left a truly lasting mark on the competition.

Ahead of the 32nd edition of the Afcon, which kicks off in Cairo on June 21, Ed Dove lists his six greatest players in the history of the Nations Cup.


There aren't too many players who have reserved their best for the Africa Cup of Nations quite like legendary Egypt midfielder Hassan.

The 44-year-old remains the only player to have been named tournament MVP on two occasions -- in 2006 and 2010 -- and he was the centrepiece of one of the greatest national sides ever seen in African football.

Indeed, while there were several players within that Egypt side who could lay claim to being the the most influential -- Wael Gomaa and Mohamed Aboutrika are unfortunate to miss out on this list -- none knitted the team together quite like Hassan.

He was present for all four of Egypt's most recent successes, and even opened the scoring in the 1998 final when -- aged 22 -- he was already proving to be a player for the big occasion.

That was only his fourth international goal in an Egypt career that would span a world-record 184 caps and eight Afcons, with Hassan's finest hour coming when he captained the Pharaohs to the 2006 title, scoring four goals en route to a second crown.

Two further successes would follow over the next four years, and, at 34, Hassan's final Afcon contribution was to lift the 2010 title -- as captain -- as Egypt's Golden Generation came to a glittering end.


Eto'o was only 18 when he took to the field as part of Cameroon's 2000 team, but he equalled the output of star striker Patrick Mboma with four goals, and made a series of decisive interventions.

Critically, he scored in each round of the knockouts, opening the scoring in the final against Nigeria.

He was a muted presence in the title victory two years later, but clinched the Golden Boot in losing efforts in 2006 and '08 -- with five goals on each occasion.

Eto'o's club feats often loom large when his career is analysed and assessed, with his international contributions having ended prematurely, and indeed he's scored more then 60 league goals at club level since his last Lions outing at the 2014 World Cup.

However, his Afcon performances over a decade -- he's the tournament's all-time top scorer with 18 goals -- ensure his standing as one of the finest to grace Africa's premier national competition.


Like Hassan, El-Hadary was one of the key pillars of the Egypt team that won a hat-trick of continental crowns between 2006 and 2010, and he was also present for the 1998 success in Burkina Faso, although Nader El-Sayed was preferred between the sticks.

He had taken over as the Pharaohs' first-choice goalkeeper by the time the 2004 tournament rolled around, and he clinched his first crown on home soil two years later. Two further titles would follow, while the veteran was also a defeated finalist in 2017 as Egypt ended their Afcon exile.

El-Hadary, the oldest player to feature in either the Afcon or the World Cup, is one of only two men -- the other being Seydou Keita -- to have made CAF's Team of the Tournament on four separate occasions.

Critically, as well as holding an unbeaten four winner's medals -- tied with Hassan -- he also played a key part in two penalty shootout successes, and kept a clean sheet in three consecutive finals.

A true giant of the Nations Cup.


Before Egypt's dynasty began with success in 2006, Cameroon had been the last truly great team to come from African soil.

As well as winning the Olympic gold medal at the Sydney Games in 2000, the Indomitable Lions became the first side since Ghana in the mid-1960s to retain the Afcon title with their dual successes in '00 and '02.

Many players featured prominently in those two successes, but Marc-Vivien Foe, Lauren and Geremi miss this list despite shining on the continental high table.

'Tonton' Rigobert, who captained the Central Africans to both successes, is tied with Hassan in having been part of eight Afcon campaigns, but his influence was about much more than pure longevity, even though he does hold the record for having played the most consecutive matches (35) in the competition.

He scored the decisive penalty to defeat Nigeria in 2000, and was named Player of the Tournament two years later as Cameroon clinched the title without conceding a single goal.

Song could have clinched a third winner's medal in 2008, but his error -- losing possession on the edge of the box to Mohamed Zidan -- cost the Lions in their 1-0 defeat by Egypt.


Nigeria's Golden Generation reached their zenith in 1994, even if their success in the Olympics only came in 1996, as this was the year when the Super Eagles clinched the Afcon title and reached the Round of 16 at the World Cup -- their first appearance on the grandest stage of all.

And there's no player more emblematic of those successes than Yekini, whose celebration when he opened the West Africans' account in the U.S. -- 21 minutes into the 3-0 victory over Bulgaria -- remains one of the defining images in Nigerian football history.

Emmanuel Amuneke netted twice to down Zambia in the 1994 Afon final, but Yekini ended the campaign with the Golden Boot having scored both goals against Zaire in the quarterfinal and the equaliser against the Ivorians in the semi.

He's one of six players to have twice been top scorer in the tournament -- he also scored four goals in 1992 -- and twice made the Team of the Tournament. The Bull of Kaduna's record in the competition was particularly consistent as well; in his five tournament appearances, he reached the final on four occasions, and finished third in '92.

Ivory Coast

Pokou's overall goalscoring record at the Nations Cup lasted 38 years before Eto'o finally matched -- and then surpassed -- the Ivory Coast legend's tally of 14 in the 2008 edition.

Pokou, in 1970, also became the first player to retain the Golden Boot, a mark that also remained his alone until the coming of Eto'o, who is often heralded as the greatest African player in history.

To date, only Yekini, Eto'o and Pokou have achieved this feat outright, although Segun Odegbami, Roger Milla and Mboma all shared Golden Boots in back-to- back top-scoring displays.

What Eto'o cannot match, however, is Pokou's haul of eight goals in the 1970 tournament, a tally that has only been eclipsed only once -- by Zaire's Pierre Ndaye Mulamba, who scored nine in 1974.

Former ASEC Abidjan superstar Pokou was one of the preeminent players in the African game during the late 60s and early 70s, winning the Afcon Player of Tournament award in 1970 and twice finishing on the podium for the African Footballer of the Year award.

Pokou never clinched the Nations Cup, however, although he did fire the Elephants to the semifinals in both 1968 and 1970.