AFCON 2019: Indomitable Lions and the Squirrels among coolest nicknames

Matt Jones - Editor 21:49 12/07/2019
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Turns out Clarence Seedorf's Indomitable Lions were able to be tamed.

Have you been roaring on the Indomitable or Atlas Lions at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, or maybe even the Lions of Teranga. How about marching to the beat of the Elephants, or Brave Elephants?

Maybe you’re more of a bird lover and have been flying high with the Cranes, Eagles or Super Eagles.

The AFCON is almost over for another year but the tournament has provided us with great entertainment so far, as well as some wonderful nicknames.

Here we pick out 12 of our favourites.

1 CAMEROON Indomitable Lions

Lions are pretty fearsome and cool anyway, right, but how about an indomitable lion – one that is impossible to subdue or defeat? Truly intimidating.

Of course Cameroon aren’t literally indomitable but they do have a pretty formidable AFCON record, having won the trophy five times – only Egypt (8) have more titles.

They’re the reigning champions too, or should that be soon to be deposed champions, as they were defeated 3-2 in the last 16 by Nigeria.

The Lions have also roamed the plains of the World Cup more times than any other African team (seven) and were the first to reach the quarter-finals, in 1990. Only Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) have replicated the feat.

2 SENEGAL Lions of Teranga

Senegal star: Mane.

Senegal star: Mane.

OK, we’re not biased towards lions or anything but, come on, you have to admit that the Lions of Teranga has an amazing ring to it.

Unlike the Ivory Coast (the Elephants) or Guinea (National Elephants) an additional, cooler word just adds to the gravitas of the nickname.

However, while the nation’s nickname might sound imposing, the meaning of Teranga couldn’t be more welcoming. In the ancient Senegalese language ‘Wolof’, Teranga means hospitality. But the word, like many others in African culture, goes beyond the mere word.

Teranga is more a reflection of the nature of Senegalese people themselves, who receive guests with open arms, allow them into their homes and meet their families.

3 GHANA Black Stars

Four-time champions of Africa and one of only three teams from the continent to play a World Cup quarter-final game, the Black Stars have certainly lived up to their nickname.

Only Luis Suarez’ crude handball on the goalline and Asamoah Gyan’s subsequent penalty miss robbed Ghana of a semi-final appearance in Brazil back in 2014. But on their own turf, success seems like a long time ago now. Ghana have four continental titles but have not hoisted the AFCON trophy since 1982.

The nickname comes from the black star on the Ghana flag and the general appearance of the Black Star of Africa – representing anti-colonialism and symbolising Africa and Ghana in particular – that appears on several African flags.

4 TUNISIA Eagles of Carthage

A few international teams are nicknamed the Eagles, but how much cooler does Tunisia’s nickname sound with the addition of Carthage?

Carthage is the cradle of the Tunisian civilization and the capital of the ancient Phoenician state. The nickname was chosen to suit their strength and speed while referring to the civilisation of Carthage.

The bald eagle is also the national team’s symbol, appearing on the emblem. They were 2-1 winners over Morocco when the tournament was staged on home soil in 2004, and they were twice runners-up too (1965, 1996) but 2019 is just their sixth appearances at the AFCON – though they have made the semi-finals.

5 NIGERIA Super Eagles

Arsenal's Alex Iwobi is one of Nigeria's star men.

Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi is one of Nigeria’s star men.

A super name for a pretty super team. Nigeria are behind only Cameroon in terms of most World Cup appearances by an African team, having featured six times – they’ve only missed one of the last seven tournaments, since making their bow at USA 94.

The nickname is inspired from the eagles which the country is famous for. The team has also historically been known for their speed, accuracy, and strength, traits shared with the eagle.

The Super Eagles made the knockout stages of the World Cup on debut in 1994 – only an 89th minute equaliser from Roberto Baggio and subsequent 2-1 victory in extra time for eventual finalists Italy prevented them from a last eight appearance.

They are three-time AFCON champions and have appeared in seven finals.

6 ANGOLA Giant Sable Antelopes

We have no idea what was going on in the person’s head who dreamt up Angola’s nickname. We have even less of a clue as to what a giant sable antelope is. But we do know it sounds pretty cool.

Sable antelopes are the prevalent animals in the tropical jungles across Angola. And, at roughly 220kg in weight for an adult, they’re pretty giant, and thus a pretty intimidating presence, much like Angola’s players would hope to be on the field.

The Antelopes only grazed the AFCON stage for the first time in 1996 with back-to-back quarter-final appearances in 2008 and 2010 their best showing.

7 ALGERIA Desert Foxes

With an area of 2,381,741 square kilometres, Algeria is the tenth-largest country in the world, the world’s largest Arab country and the largest in Africa. Yet size isn’t always a good indicator of dominance and in footballing terms, the nation is relatively undersized.

The Desert Foxes are one of eight teams with one AFCON title, Algeria were champions way back in 1990, a decade after losing in their only other final. They have also appeared in two of the last three World Cups – memorably taking champions Germany to extra time in 2014 – and four altogether.

The Desert Foxes (or Les Fennecs) are native to North Africa and some parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

8 MOROCCO Atlas Lions

Morocco and Hakim Ziyech flopped at AFCON this year.

Morocco and Hakim Ziyech flopped at AFCON this year.

OK, we seriously don’t have a thing for lions. Look, we even put Morocco down in seventh place. The Atlas Lions are one of the continent’s most famous teams but they don’t have the success to show for it.

Their five World Cup appearances puts them joint third and they were the first African team to both win a group and make it to the knockout stages, at Mexico 86.

But back home they haven’t made as many headlines – their sole AFCON success coming in 1976, their only other final appearance was 2004.

Their nickname comes from the Atlas mountains passing through Morocco that separates the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert.

9 SOUTH AFRICA Bafana Bafana

The literal meaning in English (Boys Boys) doesn’t quite have the same poetry, but Bafana Bafana infuses joy and colour in your consciousness.

Officials started looking for a nickname for the football team following the toppling of the racist apartheid regime. Journalist Pero Meselco suggested the nickname as a reflection of youth.

Joy and colour were certainly two aspects of the South Africa team and their fans at the 2010 World Cup, which they hosted.

From Siphiwe Tshabalala’s stunning strike against Mexico in the tournament’s opening game to the vociferous crowds and oddly hypnotic vuvuzelas, the Rainbow Nation’s fans certainly lived up to their country’s moniker.

10 TANZANIA Taifa Stars

Tanzania’s Taifa Stars were unable to channel the words of coach Emmanuel Amuneke who had called on his players to “engrave their names in the history books” ahead of this year’s AFCON.

The east African nation were making just a second tournament appearance since their bow 39 years ago and remain without a win after losing all three Group C encounters in a difficult pool containing Algeria and Senegal.

Former Barcelona striker Amuneke was an AFCON winner with Nigeria in 1994 but could not inspire his team at the finals.

Taifa is Swahili for country. Tanzania are also less commonly known as the Kilimanjaro Stars – Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, is in north-eastern Tanzania.

11 BENIN The Squirrels

This one’s just pure comedy gold. But no-one was laughing – least of all Morocco – when the Squirrels foraged and fought their way to the quarter-finals of this year’s tournament.

Making only their fourth AFCON appearance, Benin only made their debut in 2004. This was the first year they emerged from the group and they were rewarded further with their 4-1 penalty shootout win over the Atlas Lions in the last 16, although they were narrowly beaten 1-0 by the Lions of Teranga in the last eight.

12 UGANDA The Cranes            

It’s all well and good naming yourselves after an animal everyone knows about or trying to induce fear in opponents by calling yourselves the Indomitable Lions. Why not name yourself after an animal no-one knows anything about?

Cranes are considered the world’s tallest flying birds but the Ugandan national team certainly haven’t soared in recent times. Their 2019 AFCON appearance was just their second in 41 years, since a memorable runners-up spot was gained in 1978, where they lost 2-0 to hosts Ghana.

But they did reach the knockouts for legitimately the second-ever time this year, where only a solitary Sadio Mane strike earned Senegal a 1-0 victory and passage to the quarter-finals.

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