North Africa's lengthy Cup of Nations domination ends

South Africa's winning captain of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations Neil Tovey lifts the trophy in Johannesburg
Neil Tovey is the only southern African captain to lift the Nations Cup trophy, doing so in 1996

There will be a different name on the Africa Cup of Nations this year and one certainty is that it will not be North African - for the first time in a decade.

In Wednesday's semi-finals, West African neighbours Ivory Coast play Mali, while Ghana, from the same region, take on Zambia, the only southern Africans left in the competition.

It was nearly two decades ago that the trophy last reached West Africa, when Nigeria beat Zambia in the 1994 finals.

Two years later, the destination changed when South Africa won it.

But the last time a team from outside North African won the trophy was 10 years ago when Cameroon beat Senegal on penalties in the final to become champions for the fourth time.

Since that victory, the trophy was won by Tunisia in 2004 - only for Egypt to then register an unprecedented three straight titles, winning the last finals in 2010 when beating Ghana 1-0 in the final.

The north African domination was the longest reign by any region, and helped Egypt amass a record seven titles - three more than their closest rivals, Ghana and Cameroon.

With Egypt's surprise failure to qualify to defend their title, it was down to Libya, Morocco and Tunisia to retain the honours for North Africa at this year's finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Morocco were tipped among the favourites, but they crashed out after two defeats and a slender lone goal victory over Niger.

Tunisian players celebrate winning the trophy in 2004 at home after beating Morocco 2-1 in the final
Tunisia celebrate winning the trophy for the first time in 2004 to launch the North African domination

Tunisia, who were in the same group with the Moroccans, reached the quarter-finals but were knocked out by Ghana 2-1 after extra-time on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Libya failed to squeeze through despite drawing with Zambia and beating hot favourites Senegal in the group stages.

The last 12 months have been challenging for North African football, especially for Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, where the political atmosphere boiled over to usher in new regimes after violent protests and, in the case of Libya, anti-government fighting.

It is true that the revolutions in North Africa were very serious, and created dangerous times for its citizens, but North African sides still managed to win the continent's leading club competitions.

Esperance of Tunisia won the Confederation of African Football's Champions League, while MAS of Morocco won the Confederation Cup.

But Egypt's failure to qualify is not entirely because of the revolution.

After starting qualifying on a poor note, drawing with Sierra Leone in Cairo before losing in Niger, the Egyptians realised that the team needed a massive overhaul and injection of new blood.

A change of coach and a complete replacement of the old guard - the team that won three successive titles - means that new names hungry for success are now being groomed.

Tunisia also have exciting players and as seen at this Nations Cup, the Carthage Eagles - if this generation stays together for some time - could be in the reckoning again for a second title in the near future.

Similarly, both Morocco and Algeria, who failed to contest this year's Nations Cup, have exciting young players and could throw up a challenge over the next two tournaments - with the Moroccans hosting in 2015.

But whichever region claims the title, with three West Africans lining up against Zambia's sole southerners in the last four, it will be a deserving winner.

After many problems of their own, Ghana have matured since the 2006 World Cup - but have not won the trophy since 1982.

Ivory Coast can boast the most talented group of players from the continent at present and after three failed attempts, they now have the experience to take the trophy home for a second time.

Zambia have been in the doldrums for some time now but some exciting new players would like to see the trophy in southern Africa for only the second time - following on from Bafana Bafana's 1996 win.

Mali are also in search of a maiden trophy after losing a pulsating final in 1972 and for some key men, like Barcelona's Seydou Keita, winning the Nations Cup would be the icing on the cake of an illustrious career.

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