Fire (pix from Peter Flicker)

Behold, this Monday, I saw  roaring Flames from Malawi burn a much heralded pack of Desert Foxes from Algeria. I thought it was a dream. So, I pinched myself only to wake to an impossible sight : a herd of mighty Elephants from Ivory Coast had besieged a group of Stallions bred in Burkina Faso. But the Stallions stood firm and turned away the giants of the African field!

Oh yes! The real deal is here!

Not even the Greeks of old, with their gods  and Olympics could fashion a competition which pits the elements (Flames), the planets (Black Stars), demi-gods (Pharoahs), birds of the sky (Eagles), and all manner of animals from the African savannah and jungle (Palencras Negras, Lions, Elephants).

Africa alone can do it. At last,the real Africa Cup of Nations has kicked-off!

Although commentors managed to sneak-in a word or two  on the final departure of Togo’s Sparrow-Hawks and the cloud that the callous attack on their bus may have brought on the competition, the beauty of the opening ceremony and the  fireworks  that crowned it, finally overwhelmed most of them.

Football not war…

Thankfully, those antelopes, yes – the Palencras Negras – decided that it was always going to be about the footie and nothing else.

In terms of tactics and individual skill, they looked really short. But they compensated that with energy against the flashy Eagles of Mali with their “professionals” from Europe’s leagues.

Uh hmmm.

Those players whose masters don’t really enjoy them coming every two years to the African bush in the middle of the winter looked outpaced. With barely 15 minutes to go, they were 4-nil down (yes – the Malians).

That beautiful lady who sat by the Angolan President  could not contain her joy and happiness anymore. She could hardly keep her seat (sshh… it seems she’s the 1st Lady).

Alas, football has its ways.

Those Eagles started scoring: 1, then 2, then 3 and finally 4 goals (three of them within 4 minutes). Yikes! I darted around like a school boy and flung my notepad which always stays with me for tactical notes (à la Rafa Benitez et José Mourinho) !

Many hours later, I realised that the mourning Sparrow-Hawks who had been flown back to Lome (some say) in a Presidential jet with thei slain 2, had left my mind. A pang of guilt (African respect for the dead, I suppose) struck…

But truth be said, my head was jangling with post-match analysis.

How do you draw 4-4 after leading 4-0 at barely 10 minutes to close of play?  Those Angolans lacked the technical ability to keep the ball with little passes while waiting for the referee’s whistle. They also looked tired but  lacked the tactical sense to resist the urge of surging forward to please the crowd. Consequently, they created spaces at the back and the genius of those Europe based players took advantage to level matters.

I used to be a goalkeeper in my day and don’t like to stab a fellow-goalie – but as they say in Cameroon: “Maaaassssa dat  Palencras Negras catchman na wa oh! The Angolan goalkeeper wasn’t at his brightest in those last minutes against mali.

Football in Cabinda…

The Desert Foxes – proud ambassadors of  North African football at the upcoming World Cup – will not blame  their keeper alone for their own defeat. Once they went behind they were unable to change gear to spring a great escape. The Flames grilled them properly (3-0)  and served them as roast bush-meat to Malawian fans.  It was the second shocker of the tournament!

The third surprise came from Cabinda.

Yep, you remember the place in the news these days. There was no bad news for my journalistic tongue to lick. Well….except you are a fan of the Elephants of Ivory Coast. Africa’s fantasy soccer team, which  European media reckon will walk in the park to pick its promised crown on 31 Januray 2010.

They had thrashed the Stallions 5-0 in Abidjan and 3-2 in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) during the combined qualifiers to this tournament and the World Cup. But the Burkinabé rebelled at Cabinda, playing 9 or 10 at the back for most of the game while attempting a few incursions in the Ivorian defence.

Guerrilla tactics from the Stallions? Sure. They are in Cabinda!

Didier Drogba (Chelsea) huffed, Baky Koné (Marseille) puffed, Yaya Toure (FC Barcelona) stamped, Didier Zokora (FC Sevilla, Spain) charged but the score stayed the same : 0-0. Ivorians must pray hard that the Black Stars (Ghana) don’t overcome their Elephants on Friday, else their rumble in the Cabinda jungle may end abruptly.

Luckily, we are not yet there. We still have to watch the kings of Africa aka Pharoahs of Egypt do battle with the Super Eagles from Nigeria. Oh and “small no bi sick”, therefore don’t forget to tune-in for a bout between Squirrels (Benin) and snakes..oops…Mambas (Mozambique).

Remember, it is a jungle and anything can happen… even in a clash between Indomitable Lions and Panthers

Let the show go on!