The tournament which started on January 10 was saddled in controversy after the Togolese national football team's bus was attacked by gunmen as the squad headed to Cabinda, Angola on the road from their training camp in Congo.
The attack resulted in the death of the driver and injured several people, including two players who were shot at. This tragedy forced Togo to withdraw from the games leaving Group B with only three teams.
The tournament opener pitted the hosts Angola against Mali and the encounter produced some of the most memorable and rare moments ever to be witnessed in football in the recent past.
Angola were leading 4-0 in the 75th minute when Mali registered a comeback for the ages to score two goals in the next 15 minutes of normal time and another two in injury time to salvage a 4-4 draw. This surprised the massive home crowd and fans all over the world who had written Mali off before the floodgates opened.
If the Mali comeback was historical, Malawi kept the footballing world talking the following day when they hammered World Cup bound Algeria 3-0 to make pundits start penning articles to the effect that the 2010 title will be snatched by the underdogs. This was surprising because Malawi is 99th according to the FIFA rankings.
The following day on Tuesday, fans gasped for breath when the Pharaohs of Egypt beat Nigeria 3-1. This was a surprise because Egypt had failed to beat Nigeria for the last 47 years! While both teams are considered continental giants, Egypt failed to qualify for World Cup while Nigeria will fly the African flag in South Africa this summer. The slaying of giants during the first round ended on Wednesday that week when Gabon beat Cameroon 1-0 which is the best ranked country in Africa in 11th spot. Gabon was in 48th in the December FIFA rankings.
The competition has also sprung some disappointments so far. Mali exited the competition after winning their last match against Malawi 3-1. Despite having a better goal difference than Algeria whom they tied on four points, Algeria qualified because of the head to head rule. Their only consolation was that their attacking midfielder Seydou Keita was among the top scorers in second round with three goals and quite possibly scored one of the goals of the tournament so far.
The CAF head to head rule has further stroked more controversy after Cameroon was placed second in Group D behind Zambia after the two teams finished on four points each with a similar goal difference of zero.
For Mozambican defender Dario Khan, this must be a tournament to forget very fast because the defender scored two own-goals in two matches. He scored an own-goal in the first match against Benin and the second against Egypt. Zambia were also let down by their 'keeper Kennedy Mweene when he spilled a simple shot to give Cameroon a lifeline during their crucial match. They eventually lost 3-2 though. He redeemed himself when he helped Chipolopolo humble Benin 2-1 in the last match.
The competition has not so far produced the best among the top footballers in Africa. Although football giants like Samuel Eto’o and Didier have scored to help their sides progress, they have yet to show those sterling performances that ranks them among the best in the world.
Nigeria's players are also yet to impress apart from Peter Odemwingie. Nigeria has always been the continent’s darling because of the allay of dazzling players it parades during such competitions. Not this year. Ghana has so far done well with the youthfully side and the injury of inspirational Michael Essien who came in as a substitute in the first match against Ivory Coast may cost them at the knockout stage. His teammates though repaid him by qualifying to the second round after beating Burkina Faso 1-0.
The tournament also produced some positives in the first round. Foremost, the teams that were hitherto considered minnows have raised their stature as shown by Malawi and Benin. Although they failed to qualify, they gave a good account of themselves. Their performance and that of other teams like Angola, Gabon, Zambia and Mozambique has given the big boys like Algeria, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana a reality check that World Cup will not be a walk in the park.
Apart from few isolated cases, match officials have done an excellent job and no team has used poor refereeing as an excuse for defeat during a match or elimination from the competition. This is a big plus to African football and a confirmation that standards are coming of age. In Europe, the English Premier specifically, team managers are always complaining because of the way referees are handling the premier league matches. These referees have so far made a strong case to FIFA why they should be centre referees during the World Cup in June.
Security in the games which was a concern in the beginning has become a non issue because no fear has again been reported after the games started. This makes the Togo attack an isolated case and gives the world hope that all will be fine in South Africa in June during the World Cup.