AFCON 2022 national team nicknames: Explaining the origin story behind the country monikers

National team nicknames are always fascinating, no matter where in the world they originate – those nicknames often reflect deep roots and important aspects of the culture, social environment, or national history of the people who live there.

The African confederation is home to some of the most fascinating, unique and interesting national team nicknames in the world. Below is a quick reference guide to the nicknames of each participant, followed by a breakdown of the most unique ones that you are likely to see deep in the tournament.

AFCON 2022 National Team Nicknames by Country

Here are the popular nicknames for each of the 24 participants in the African Cup of Nations that will take place from January 9 to February 6 in Cameroon.

Country Nickname
Algeria Les Fennecs (The Foxes)
Fennec foxes
Desert warriors
Desert foxes
Burkina faso Les Etalons (The Stallions)
Cameroon Indomitable lions
Cape Verde Tubaroes Azuis (Blue Sharks)
Comoros Les Coelecantes (The Coelacanths)
Egypt Pharaohs
Equatorial Guinea Nzalang Nacional (National Ray)
Ethiopia Walias
Gabon Les Pantheres (The Panthers)
Gambia Scorpions
Ghana Black stars
Guinea Syli Nationale (National Elephants)
Guinea-Bissau Djurtus
Ivory Coast The elephants
Malawi Calls
Mali Les Aigles (The Eagles)
Mauritania Al-Murabitun / Almoravids (Lions of Chinguetti)
Morocco Leones de l’Atlas (Atlas Lions)
Nigeria Super eagles
Senegal Teranga lions
Sierra Leone Lioness stars
Sudan Jediane Falcons
Tunisia Eagles of Carthage
Zimbabwe The Warriors

Best AFCON 2022 Nicknames Explained

Cameroon: indomitable lions

This year’s host, Cameroon, hopes to regain some former glory. The recognizable nickname was born out of a kind of rebranding. Initially known as the Lions, a nod to the royal animal that lives primarily in the semi-arid areas of the north of the country, President Ahmadou Ahidjo tweaked things a bit in 1972. He changed the name to “Indomitable Lions” in hopes of giving the team a slightly more impressive and recognizable state. “Indomitable” by definition means “impossible to subdue or defeat.”

Cameroon was once the pride of Africa during the 1980s and 1990s, highlighted by the 1982 Men’s World Cup (three impressive draws in the group stage) and the 1990 World Cup (placed in the quarterfinals), in addition to their African Cup of Nations victories in 1988, 2000 and 2002. However, things have fallen apart for Cameroon of late, with corruption and strife tarnishing the domestic league and national team for the last decade or so.

Senegal: Lions of Teranga

The Senegalese nickname is steeped in the country’s history. “Teranga” is a word in the country’s lingua franca, or “linking language,” known as Wolof. According to New York-based Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam as cited by the BBC in 2020, while the official translation of “teranga” is “hospitality”, that definition is “a vague way of translating it”. It really is much more complex than that. It is a way of life.”

Therefore, the name is a nod to the heritage of the country. Lions are native to Senegal, although their numbers, as in Cameroon, have declined significantly. The last known population of lions left is in Niokolo-Koba National Park, on the banks of the Gambia River.

Algeria: Fennec Foxes

While other nations like Cameroon have opted for more intimidating and imposing nicknames, Algeria has embraced a cuter, cuter part of its national heritage. The fennec fox, a subspecies of fox native to the Sahara desert, is the national animal of Algeria and thus became the perfect nickname. It even appeared in the 2010 jersey shown below.

A fennec fox is known for its distinctive feature – huge ears. These serve to dissipate heat and help the fox to survive in the arid climates in which it resides. Expect to hear this name regularly throughout the month of the tournament, with Algeria being the defending champion and a favorite.

(Fake images)

Tunisia: Eagles of Carthage

Like Cameroon, Tunisia has adopted a well-known animal and added some flair to it. Carthage was the coastal capital of the Carthaginian civilization, a flourishing ancient civilization that resided in present-day Tunis. The city was sacked and destroyed by the Roman Empire, leaving ruins that can still be visited today.

The eagle reference evokes power, royalty, and superiority. Two other countries, Mali and Nigeria, also have nicknames that reference the eagle, but neither has a direct reference to the country’s past, giving the Tunisian nickname a unique distinction.

Egypt: the pharaohs

While other nicknames require some research to discern their history and meaning, this one is straightforward. Egypt’s team, known for its Great Pyramids, are known as the Pharaohs, a nod to the country’s ancient monarchs.

Pharaohs were thought to be messengers of the gods and therefore had the divine right to lead the people. As one of the most decorated African confederations, the continent’s first representative at the 1934 World Cup and the winner of the most AFCON tournaments, it has also earned the title of monarchs of African football.

Comoros: Coelacanths

Country first: Comoros is a small island nation located between mainland Africa and Madagascar. With a population of just over 850,000 people as of 2019, the nation consists of three main volcanic islands that, when put together, are roughly the same size as the Hawaiian island of Maui. The country surprised the African landscape by qualifying for the tournament by finishing second in Group G, finishing just three points behind Egypt and two points ahead of Kenya. This will be the first AFCON tournament in Comoros.

Now to the nickname. Pronounced “SEEL-uh-kanth”, this enormous species has an absolutely fascinating and long history. According to the scientific classification, the coelacanth is more related to amphibians and birds than to ray-finned fish. The six-foot, 200-pound fish was thought to be extinct 66 million years ago, until one was rediscovered off the coast of South Africa. They are estimated to live for around 100 years and inhabit the waters around the Comoros Islands, swimming about 700 meters below the surface.

(Fake images)

Equatorial Guinea: National Nzalang

While we have translated the other national nicknames from the local language, this one has been left in their native language, Fang, which is a Central African dialect that is mostly spoken in Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and southern Cameroon. While most English versions of the name have this translated as “The National Thunder”, it actually seems to be better translated as “The National Lightning”.

The name is a reference to the violent storms experienced in the rainy season, which despite the small nature of the Massachusetts-sized nation, is completely reversed depending on its location. If you are on the mainland, the rainy season is more traditional from March to May and / or September to November, depending on the year. However, on the island of Bioko, located off the coast of Cameroon but officially part of Equatorial Guinea, the rainy season reverses and rainfall is mainly concentrated from November to March.

Ethiopia: Walias

An African federation with a rich history, Ethiopia was one of three African nations that participated in the first AFCON tournament in 1957, winning the competition in 1962 as the host. However, since 1970, the nation has qualified for only three editions of the competition, making this an exciting time for Ethiopia.

Interestingly, of the 31 endemic Ethiopian species known to the East African nation, the federation chose the Walia Ibex to represent its squad, rather than the more famous and intimidating Ethiopian wolf. An Ibex is a threatened wild goat species, and it is estimated that there are only about 500 Walias left in the mountains of Ethiopia. However, the choice of mascot helped the nation become sponsored with Walia beer.

Malawi: Llamas

This nickname sounds boring, like your typical high school mascot, but it actually invokes a bit of national pride. The country itself is largely made up of Lake Malawi. The word “Malawi” is derived from the Bantu dialect known as Chewa, where the word “Maravi” means “flames”. The lake, and by proxy the country, was named for the sparkling effect that the lake emits when the sun hits it.

Lake Malawi, sometimes known as Calendar Lake because it is 365 miles long and 52 miles wide, accounts for nearly a quarter of the entire landlocked nation, so its history is central to the nation’s culture.

Guinea-Bissau: Djurtus

Oh great, another animal we’ve never heard of. Don’t worry, this one is much cuter than a giant fish, but also much more dangerous.

Guinea-Bissau, not to be confused with Guinea, is a small nation on the west coast of Africa about the size of Maryland. It was the home of the African wild dog, also known as Djurtus in the local Portuguese Creole dialect. It is closely related to a Dhole, another endangered species of wild dog that lives in Asia. Unfortunately, the Djurtu is believed to be extinct in Guinea-Bissau, with the few remaining animals scattered across the eastern part of the continent, but this ferocious animal still represents an intimidating presence, while the name itself is a call to the local language.