The temperature truly soared in Africa earlier this month, with four rounds contested out a of a total of six in the second stage of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. With surprises, disappointments, revelations and joy colouring the 95 encounters played out, all the ingredients were present for a burst of activity high on drama. FIFA.com now looks back at some of the key moments to arise in the first four matchdays in Groups 7 to 12.
The biggest surprise
Shocks were hardly thin on the ground in Groups 7 to 12, with Group 9 pacesetters Burkina Faso very much leading the way. Along with Nigeria in Group 4, they are the only team still boasting a perfect record and their winning run has all but guaranteed them a berth in the third stage. Moumouni Dagano has proved the key man for the Stallions so far, shooting his way to the top of the African goalscoring charts with five goals.
Rwanda and Swaziland have turned more than a few heads as well, with the former pushing Morocco hard in Group 8, where they trail their prestigious rivals by a goal difference of just two. For their part, Swaziland find themselves top of Group 11, which contains only three sides following the withdrawal of Eritrea. The Sihlangu even had a 2-1 victory over Germany 2006 participants Togo to celebrate.
In contrast, the big favourites have all been fairly disappointing. Côte d'Ivoire have lost precious points in Group 7, for example, due to a goalless draw with Madagascar and a 1-1 stalemate with Botswana, while Mali and Congo have both paid for their inconsistency in Group 10. Meanwhile, African champions Egypt have been playing second fiddle in Group 12 to Congo DR, and all will have to rediscover their best form to stave off disaster when the last two games are played in September.
The critical match
Tunisia 1-2 Burkina Faso
Goals: Tijani Belaid 38 for Tunisia; Yssouf Kone 85 and 87 for Burkina Faso
The Stade Olympique de Rades was absolutely packed to the rafters for Tunisia's curtain-raiser, but the 15,000 spectators present could not have been more dismayed at the final whistle. Despite opening the scoring early on through Belaid, the Carthage Eagles repeatedly found their attacks coming to nothing against the well-organised Burkinabe and at the other end, the 2004 African champions proved incapable of protecting their lead. Brought on seven minutes before the end, Yssouf Kone found the back of the net two minutes later and then again another 120 seconds after that to set up a famous win for the visitors.
The star player
"Attacking players are what my team is built on," warned Congo DR coach Patrice Neveu before the action started, and four games later his charges have proved him right. Of the team's 13 goals, eight have been scored by strikers - with Shabani Nonda grabbing four, Dieumerci Mbokani three and Tresor Mputu one - while four have been struck by midfielders; three courtesy of Zola Matumona and the other by Tshinayama Tshiolola. Left-back Herita Ilunga fired in the remaining effort. Not content with leading Group 12, the Leopards also boast the most prolific attack on the continent.
In terms of players starting to make a name for themselves, Burkina Faso marksman Yssouf Kone deserves a special mention. Having played just ten minutes on the road to Germany 2006, the Rosenborg man has so far buried three goals in 110 minutes, giving him the best ratio in Africa.
• Moumouni Dagano's hat-trick in the third round of matches, which helped the Burkinabe to a 3-2 victory over Seychelles.
• The courageous 0-0 draw Madagascar managed to attain against Côte d'Ivoire in their second outing, thanks in no small part to goalkeeper Jean Raharison.
• Botswana's 2-1 win over Mozambique on 8 June, as things stand the only away success in Group 7.
• The memorable 8-1 defeat inflicted by Malawi on Djibouti in their opening game. It remains the biggest scoreline in the second stage of qualifying.
• The fervour of the Stade Regional de Nyamirambo in Kigali, where 12,000 fans helped Rwanda complete a 3-0 win over Mauritania and a 3-1 triumph over Morocco.
• Mali's impressive display of attacking football against a normally solid Congo team, resulting in a 4-2 victory for the Eagles.