Former gold medal winners Cameroon sent out early notification of their potential by overwhelming Guinea 6-1 at the start of the final round of African qualifying for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008. The continent's top 12 U-23 sides are left in the battle for three berths and Cameroon, who triumphed in a dramatic final in Sydney seven years ago, have again made an early statement of intent.

They swept all beside them in the northern town of Garoua, with Marc Mboua opening the scoring after just four minutes. Mboua added one more before half-time, but it was Serge Ngal who emerged as the hero with a hat-trick against the Guineans.

Cameroon's main challengers in Group C will be Morocco, who failed to find the necessary rhythm in Rabat against underdogs Botswana and only managed a 1-0 win. Nigeria, the only other African country to have won a Men's Olympic Football Tournament, tasted victory in their west African derby courtesy of a 3-2 reverse of Ghana, setting the tone for a tough and bruising group to come. Two Italian-based stars dominated the proceedings with Chievo's Obinna Nsofor scoring twice, one of them a penalty.

But Ghana matched their hosts in Abuja and were 2-1 ahead by the quarter-hour mark thanks to a Prince Tagoe effort and a curling free-kick by Udinese forward Asamoah Gyan, who played for the Black Stars at last year's FIFA World Cup™ finals. It was the Germany-based Solomon Okoronkwo who separated the two teams with the only goal of the second half, but Nigeria coach Samson Siasia said he needed more time together with his players to lift their competitive standard. "It is going to be difficult to get the right blend until we've played more matches," said the former international striker.


Also in Group A, South Africa came from behind to draw 2-2 with Ethiopia in Addis Ababa.

Zambia won their opening Group B game at home in Chingola against the backdrop of the tragedy less than 24 hours earlier, when 12 spectators were killed in a stampede at the end of a CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier between their senior side and Congo. Zambia U-23 team coach Peter Kaumba dedicated his side's 2-0 triumph over Cote d'Ivoire to the supporters, saying afterwards: "This is for those fans. We send our condolences to their families." Two goals in the space of four first half minutes from Timothy Mbewe and Given Singuluma sealed victory for Zambia.

In another derby in west Africa, Mali won a potentially precious point in Senegal with goalkeeper Oumar Cissokho emerging as the hero of the match. The next round of African qualifying for Beijing 2008 will be played on 22 August.