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The first tournament was held in 2009. It was hosted by Ivory Coast and won by The Democratic Republic of the Congo. The competition was expanded to 16 teams for the second tournament, held in Sudan in 2011. The tournament was won by Tunisia, in the wake of the Tunisian Revolution.
The tournament is held every two years, alternating with the Africa Cup of Nations. The qualifying phase has taken place every even year and the final every odd year. From now on it has swapped years with Africa Cup of Nations.
It has been argued that, despite the fact that only national league players participate, the tournament is growing in importance.
The creation of the African Nations Championship was a response to the desire to revive or strengthen national competitions regularly weakened by a mass exodus of top players who leave their home countries to play for foreign teams which will pay more and get them more media coverage. Starting from the 2014 edition onwards, all of the matches are recognized by FIFA as first team matches.
CAF hopes that the players in the national competitions can experience the joy of the selection, and to one day integrate the selection with that of the Africa Cup of Nations.
The eight tournament spots, for the first edition in 2009, were allocated the following way:
- One each for North Zone, Zone West A, Zone West B, Centre Zone and Central-East Zone
- Two for the Southern Zone
- One for the host country of the final tournament
Since the second edition, in 2011, 16 teams qualify for the tournament, allocated this way (including host country):
- 2 each for North Zone and Zone West A
- 3 each for Zone West B, Central Zone, Central-East Zone and Southern Zone
The group stage of the African Nations Championship features pools of four teams drawn at random. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout stage.
On 8 March 2009, Democratic Republic of the Congo defeated Ghana 2–0 to become the first winner of the tournament.
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