Africa's biggest and best struggle
After two rounds of Africa's World Cup qualifying matches not many experts would have guessed that the continent's two most successful sides would be propping up their groups.
Egypt have won a record six African Nations Cups while Cameroon have been the continent's top side four times and are chasing a sixth World Cup finals appearance. Yet 2004 and 2006 African champions Egypt are yet to win in Group C and Cameroon are yet to score a single goal in Group A.
Egypt, who now put qualifying on hold as they travel to South Africa to contest the Confederations Cu, lost 3-1 to bitter rivals Algeria on Sunday.
Before a packed house in Blida, the night sky was ablaze with red flares as the Desert Foxes opened the scoring through Karim Matmour's thunderous left-footed drive from the edge of the box. A frenzy ensued for the Algerian fans as Abdelkader Ghezzal headed home a free-kick and Rafik Djebbour profited from generous defending for a third.
Although Mohamed Aboutreika managed to pull one back for the Pharaohs, the North African team standing atop Group C with four points is Algeria, reviving memories of their 1980s World Cup appearances. And with Egypt on Confederations Cup duty for perhaps the whole month, they won't be able to get their qualifying back on track until their rescheduled match against Rwanda in July.
By then, they could be further behind. Algeria travel to fellow table-toppers Zambia next time out and what a game that promises to be as the southern Africans, who earned a narrow 1-0 victory over Rwanda at the weekend, are desperate to be there in 2010. Zambia have never reached the finals but have started their group in impressive form - securing an unexpected draw in Cairo on the opening day before putting Rwanda's Wasps to the sword 1-0.
After Collins Mbesuma missed a first-half penalty before Rainford Kalaba was lucky to find the net after 79 minutes when mistiming a header so badly the ball came off his shoulder. He'll need to be sharper against an Algerian team chasing their first finals appearance since Mexico '86.
Conversely, Group A features three recent World Cup finalists - Togo, Morocco and Cameroon, but the Indomitable Lions are looking limp.
After losing their opener in Togo 1-0, Cameroon had been expected to feast upon Morocco yet the visitors held out for a goalless draw, meaning Samuel Eto'o's team has still to score in Group A. His first-half penalty appeal was ignored while Daniel Kone missed a good chance, but things could have been worse had Morocco striker Mounir El Hamdoui not wasted two late openings.
Should Cameroon lose in a fortnight in Gabon, who they already trail by five points, Africa's most experienced World Cup side's dreams of reaching the finals in South Africa would effectively be over.
"This is a major setback for us, but all is not yet lost. We can still make it," said Cameroon's interim coach Thomas Nkono. "We'll go back to the drawing board and work on a formula to beat Gabon in Libreville. It's not going to be easy, but we can still win."
Nkono only took charge after German Otto Pfister quit last week in a disagreement with Cameroon's Ministry of Sport. The Cameroonian woe at the bottom of Group A is shared by Morocco (with one point apiece), especially with Gabon flying high. Alain Giresse's men followed their surprise victory in Casablanca with a 3-0 thumping of Togo.
Emmanuel Adebayor's Togo trailed to Bruno Ecuele's early strike only to lose Thomas Dossevi to a red card before the break, after which the Gabonese scored twice more. Their credentials will come under scrutiny when the wounded Cameroon visit in search of a do-or-die three points.
Gabon's 3-0 victory was the weekend's joint biggest win, equalled by Nigeria's 3-0 defeat of Kenya in Abuja in Group B. Ikechukwu Uche pounced after two minutes, followed by two late Obinna Nsofor goals - a penalty and a cracking 16-yard finish - but the Kenyans had their chances with Denis Oliech wasting promising moves before Nigeria grabbed their second. "It was a very difficult match. I thought it would be a goal shower after the opener, but the players slowed the game down," Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu said.
Nonetheless, Nigeria's devoted fans currently have to settle for second spot since their four points are inferior to the six of Tunisia - one of five sides boasting 100% records. The 2004 African champions felled Mozambique 2-0, thanks to Wissem Ben Yahia and Oussama Darragi's unerring finish.
The next two rounds are likely to determine who takes Group B's World Cup spot with the two heavyweights, Tunisia and Nigeria, meeting both home and away. Seeking their fifth World Cup, Tunisia have home advantage first and the chance to stretch their lead to five points but the Super Eagles can point to an impenetrable defence as grounds for optimism.
Perhaps the team that took the biggest step towards South Africa 2010 at the weekend was Ghana, who won one of their hardest Group D matches when triumphing 2-0 in Mali. The hosts were without midfielders Mahamadou Diarra and Momo Sissoko, but the 2006 World Cup finalists also had absentees, Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah. After a balanced first half, the Black Stars took control through Kwadwo Asamoah and Matthew Amoah to go three points clear in Group D, above West African rivals Benin who sunk Sudan 1-0 thanks to Razak Omotoyossi's seventh qualifying goal.
In the next round, Ghana must get another obstacle out of the way, as they travel to Khartoum where it is never easy to win. Meanwhile, Mali will be desperate to defeat Benin and take themselves off the foot of the table.
Finally to Group E where the Ivory Coast's perfect start has been surprisingly matched by Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso, who opened with a 4-2 win over Guinea, overcame a travelling nightmare which involved passing through South Africa to emerge 1-0 winners in Malawi. Moumouni Dagano was the match-winner with an unequalled 10th goal of this campaign, so perfectly setting up the June 20 clash against the Ivorians in Ouagadougou where the Stallions' pedigree will be revealed.
The Elephants were in Conakry to face Guinea's 'Syli' Elephants. After Bakary Kone gave the visitors the lead, Sambegou Bangoura raised Guinea's World Cup hopes when heading home after 65 minutes - yet the feeling was short-lived. Five minutes later, Emmanuel Eboue surged in lung-busting style from inside his own penalty area to tee up Kofi Romaric and the Elephants were back atop the group, albeit on goal difference.
Elsewhere, Guinea and Malawi's attentions will start turning to next year's Nations Cup in Angola for both sides have lost twice, and are six points adrift at the bottom of the table.
The qualifiers reach the halfway stage on the weekend of June 20-21, but how the fans of Gabon and Algeria will be wishing they could end now. Sadly for them it's never over after two rounds and there are surely still plenty of twists in the race to Africa's first World Cup.