The defending champions of the African Cup of Nations are out.
Hosts of the 34th edition of the tournament, Ivory Coast ensured that a long standing tradition was obeyed by edging out Senegal 5-4 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after regular time and extra time.
The ferocious Senegalese Teranga Lions mauled their way through the group stage with a perfect record of 3 wins out of 3, but found a formidable foe in a wounded Ivorian side, whose Elephants barely limped into the Round of 16 by emerging as the 4th best sides amongst the 3rd placed teams of the group phase.
This defeat meant that no reigning Afcon champion has played a Quarter finals match since Egypt defended their crown in 2010.
Let’s take a dive through the files:
* Egypt (2012) – Didn’t Qualify
Fresh from winning their 7th title, the Pharoahs were placed in Group G of the qualifiers, but surprisingly finished bottom in a group containing Niger Republic, South Africa and Sierra Leone; which meant a title defense in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea was out of the way.
* Zambia (2013) – Group Stage
Zambia defied the odds to emerge champions of Africa in 2012, but soon learnt a bitter lesson about title defences a year later, when they couldn’t make it out of the group, finishing behind Nigeria and Burkina Faso in Group C of the 2013 tournament held in South Africa.
* Nigeria (2015) – Didn’t Qualify
The self-acclaimed Giant of Africa couldn’t live up to its tag when it failed to show up for its title defence in Equatorial Guinea after conquering the continent 2 years earlier. The Super Eagles settled for 3rd place in Group C of the qualification series, behind Congo and South Africa.
* Ivory Coast (2017) – Group Stage
The famed Golden Generation of Ivory Coast finally had their hands on the elusive trophy in 2015 and aimed to retain it 2 years later. However, such hopes were dashed as The Elephants were hunted down in Gabon by Togo, Morocco and DR. Congo, thereby ensuring a group stage exit.
* Cameroon (2019) – R16
After wandering in the wilderness for almost 2 decades, Cameroon landed a 4th title in 2017 and were on course to defend it 2 years later in Egypt, finishing behind Ghana in Group F of that tournament to secure safe passage to the next round. But they were stopped in their tracks by familiar foes, Nigeria, whose Eagles flew over the Lions with a 3-2 scoreline to kill any dreams of a 5th triumph.
* Algeria (2021) – Group Stage
Algeria were in hunting mood when they showed up in Cameroon for the Afcon as reigning champions with a 34-match unbeaten run. But a surprise draw with Sierra Leone and an even more shocking 1-0 defeat by Equatorial Guinea, before being trampled upon by Ivory Coast’s Elephants in a 3-1 loss meant that the Fennec Foxes returned to Algiers empty handed.
* Senegal (2023) – R16
The Teranga Lions of Senegal were the apex predators of the 34th edition of the Afcon, ripping apart their opponents in the group phase with such ease and pulling through with a perfect record.
But despite taking an early lead against a badly bruised Ivorian side in their Round of 16 clash, The Elephants found their stamina to level scores late in the second half and eventually outlasted the reigning champions 5-4 on penalties.