Congo and Ethiopia early stars of the Afcon

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Ethiopian national team has injected some much-needed enthusiasm into the African Nations' Cup.

Eight matches, 13 goals, and just three winners. Mali, Ivory Coast and Tunisia emerge out of round one of this African Nations' Cup as the only teams to make significant dents in the tournament but the opening round will be remembered for the fightbacks of the DRC and Ethiopia more than the performances of the victors.

- An uncomfortable win for the favourites

The two lowest-ranked teams in the tournament (101 and 110 in the world and 27 and 31 in Africa, respectively) brought more enthusiasm than anyone else. They played like teams who had nothing to lose but also like teams who wanted to win.

Both have proud histories as former winners of the event and although neither may go on to add to their trophy collection, they have already showcased some great entertainers. Saladin Said is outstanding as Ethiopia's frontman and combines speed and skill to produce attractive play.

It would be unfair to label Robert Kidiaba as the best of his bunch. Although the DRC's shot-stopper definitely has the most eye-catching hairdo, the standout feature of the first round has been the quality of the keeping.

Kennedy Mweene saved Zambia from certain defeat and Vincent Enyeama had put in a fine performance before his defence let him down. Kidiaba's bum-wiggling celebrations will probably see him in more photographs than the other two, but given the goal drought, the 'keepers across the board should pat themselves on the back for jobs well done.

But the moment of class from the first round of matches came from the boot of Tresor Mputu. The much-talked about TP Mazembe man slotted home the goal of the tournament so far. Gervinho gave him a close run with his winner for the Ivory Coast against Togo but Mputu's was so finely crafted and so important in the DRC's deserved comeback that the accolade must go to him.

For the rest, it has been a case of softly, quietly and being too afraid to make mistakes. Cautionary play has been the theme of the round starting with the hosts, South Africa, and ending with the over-hyped "derby of the desert", between Tunisia and Algeria which finished with a goal that was far superior to the match that came before it.

In the heavyweights, there are concerns. Ivory Coast were well below par although they came off with a important win. Their mothers, who formed the "Friendship Association of Elephants' Mothers", in 2005 are predicting the best for them, but they would, wouldn't they?

Zambia were off the boil to the point that they look like they may not be able to defend their crown. And then their coach conceded that they were not properly prepared. Nigeria conceded a late goal to turn what should have been a win into a draw and make the rest of their task unnecessarily more difficult. They have since said they are in South Africa only to "do their best", and not to win.

South Africa present the biggest conundrum because as hosts they are expected to keep interest in the tournament alive, but they can barely maintain it in themselves for ninety minutes. Terrified in the box, they do not look like they will score a goal before the next Nations' Cup, even with their coach's job on the line. South Africa lack the confidence of the rest of the teams in the tournament and in their group which may leave Group A down to a three-team scramble.

Ghana in Group B are still tipped to win the event overall and will have to find some of the magic that they had during the 2010 World Cup. They have a young team with plenty of promise but like the other big guns, were overwhelmed by a side that simply wanted it more.

Complaints about the tournament so far have ranged from lack of engaging football to poor crowds, and if things continue in this vein, those arguments will be justified. While there have been periods of exciting play, nobody cares about that unless there are goals and winners and losers. The intricacies have had their moments, the circumspection and the sizing-up too. It's time to get down to the real business, if only the teams play ball.

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