The 2008 Africa Cup of Nations kicked off recently, and my first comment is on the brute, physical strength evident among the West African teams.
There is not a weakling among any of them. The two 'short' players out of the first 44 I saw were all built like light-heavyweight boxers. Not an ounce of fat on any of them. And the big ones are all built like super-heavyweight boxers, except they have speed, skill and agility.
Didier Drogba is the second biggest player at Chelsea (after Peter Cech), yet he is of average size in the Ivorian team. There must have been about four players bigger than him! Yaya Toure is a physical beast and together with Didier Zokora dominated the centre of midfield against Nigeria.
The Nigerian team was disappointing on the night, but they have enough quality in their squad to suggest they will still be among the contenders at the end.
Few perfect pitches
Ghana struggled against Guinea in the opening game, although they did hit the woodwork three times before winning 2-1 with a superb 35m last-minute strike from Sulley Muntari.
The fields have not looked great, but anyone who has travelled into Africa will tell you there are very few perfect pitches on the continent.
South African players are very fortunate to play league matches on some of the best fields, and some of them are in for a 'nice' surprise.
I played for Bafana against Congo in Point Noire in 1993 and the field was nothing more than a beach with some tufts of elephant grass. All our preparations went out the window and it was a case of adapting as quickly as possible and playing the best style of football to suit the conditions - mostly hoofing it up to me in the air and trying to feed off any knock downs.
Lights out in Ghana!
You can't help but feel sorry for the organisers of the tournament after the power failure in Accra just prior to the Mali v Benin match.
The supporters in the stadium were magnificent though, entertaining themselves by dancing and singing while waiting for the lights to come back on. I can't help but imagine the scene in SA in a few years should that happen - booing and whistling ringing out in displeasure.
I also felt for the referee of the match - Cape Town's very own Jerome Damon. The first South African to make an appearance in this year's tournament and the lights go out... I hope he isn't an Eskom employee in real life!
The refereeing has been decent so far although I think Ghana benefited from some 'home team' decisions in the opening match. I like the style of the North African refs - pretty much a case of 'get on with it'. They can also spot a 'dive' a mile away and I guess that comes from the experience of refereeing in North Africa.
There is a lot of quality on show and not all of it from the obvious big names. There are some no-name brands in some of the teams who look like they are on the verge of the next big move. I think it is fantastic for African football to have so many players making a great living out of the game in the top European leagues.
Unfortunately, until local teams and leagues can compete with the financial offers abroad, the continent is destined to lose its best talent. The great news is that as soon as one player leaves for Europe, another one rises up to take his place back home. And so the cycle continues.
George is the associate publisher of Kick Off magazine and represented South Africa during the 1994 World Cup qualifiers.
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