1. This high-stakes knockout format might not be so bad after all. Qualifying groups are long, turgid affairs, especially the European ones, international football’s equivalent of the snoozetastic-but-moneyspinning Champions League group stages. Knockout football puts the big names at risk, as they should be. This past weekend was joyous.
2. Look out for the central African sides. I reckon DR Congo look a good early outside bet (remember Zambia were 50-1 behind Burkina Faso and Libya pre-tournament last time round) and nobody will want to play Egypt’s conquerors CAR in January if they manage to hold onto their slender 1-0 lead over Burkina Faso.
3. The Sudanese really know how to celebrate a goal:
Watching big Sudan-Ethiopia games feels like being back in the 1950s. All we need is Ad-Diba to turn up with his whistle to referee the second leg.
4. Home advantage is everything. Just ask the Moroccans, the Angolans or the Cameroonians. On the flip side, it means all three of those teams will hold out hope of turning their ties around in October. It also means that despite their recent struggles Bafana Bafana can’t be discounted as serious contenders.
5. Cabo Verde could have a big future in the African game, especially if they can prevent their top players representing other nations.
6. As Jonathan Wilson points out, Cote d’Ivoire’s defence looks a bit dodgy. Kolo Toure is seriously slowing down these days and former Dunfermline Athletic stalwart Sol Bamba might be a favourite of Sven Goran Eriksson, but he’s not the most positionally sound. Thankfully Eboue has been restored by Sabri Lamouchi at the expense of the clunking Gosso. Hopefully Seydou Doumbia will be next.
7. Papiss Demba Cissé is a genius. The man scores goals most players wouldn’t dream of attempting:
8. Zambia have to be very careful in their second leg in Kampala. That one is going to be tense, and I’ve a hunch Uganda will do a number on the African champs.
9. I miss Samuel Eto’o. What price a dramatic return for the second leg? If not, Cameroon look doomed. Whatever the internal drama behind this years-long row, when it comes down to it it’s a dispute between a handful of soon-to-be-forgotten officials and one of Africa’s greatest footballers ever, and the result is to that a huge chunk of international matches is missing from his career and Cameroon are absolutely hopeless.
10. Remember the name: Christian Atsu. Is he the Ghanaian Messi? We don’t know but he looked tasty against Malawi and Porto’s scouts really know talent when they see it.