There were mixed fortunes for Africa's big guns as the continent's teams fought it out for the right to progress to the final round of qualifiers for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.
Nigeria fared better than most, a 5-0 win over Equatorial Guinea leaving them rightly confident of making the cut.

With former Nigerian international Samson Siasia in the dugout, the Super Eagles went on a goal spree in front of their own fans at the giant Abuja National Olympic stadium to revive morale after defeats at the hands of Congo in the African Youth Championship and in a London-hosted friendly against Ghana's Black Stars.

With a squad mainly based on the players of the team that finished as runner-ups to Argentina two years ago in the FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands, Nigeria totally outclassed their inexperienced visitors, with Obinna Nsofor, Isaac Promise and Solomon Okonkwo all outstanding. "It was a good match, we had to put up our very best to come up with a good result," said Siasia. "The opposition may not have been that strong, but we played like a team to get the maximum result."

In South Africa, meanwhile, new coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was able to put aside his work permit problems to enjoy a comfortable home victory for his side over Uganda at Olen Park stadium. The visitors succeeded in keeping a clean sheet in the first half but the South Africans scored twice after the interval through midfielder Lance Davids and striker Lerato Chabangu. Davids in particular looked very promising and he could boost the fortunes of the Bafana Bafana as they prepare for 2010 and the most important sporting event in the nation's history.

Neighbours Zambia were also able to eke out a home win, although it was fair from plain sailing in a hard-fought 3-2 win over Malawi. Playing on a waterlogged pitch in Lusaka, the home side twice had to come from behind before striker Felix Nsunzu Jr scored the winning goal after a solo effort from Gondwe, the darling of the 5,000 fans at the Nkholoma stadium.

Further north, Morocco easily beat Rwanda 3-0 as coach Fathi Jamal looked to the same pack of players he used in the 2005 FIFA U-20 finals in the Netherlands. Youssef Rabeh broke the deadlock in the 26th minute, Abdessalam Benjelloun doubled their lead nine minutes into the second half and later Mouhcine Yajour sealed a fine victory when he fired home a free-kick from just outside the box. 

Ethiopia on song
However, it was not all good news for the big guns in African football.  Ethiopia shocked everyone by beating Algeria 3-1 in their own backyard at the 20 August stadium. The visitors certainly fully merited the gracious applause they received from the Algerian fans shocked to see their side out-fought and out-though by a more organised and disciplined opponent.

"They took us by surprise and, honestly, we do not have much hope for second leg in Addis Ababa," Algeria's manager Abdelhafid Tasfaout admitted afterwards.

Elsewhere, in the Menzah stadium, Tunisia's efforts were against some outstanding goalkeeping from Botswana's Maposonoda, who even saved a penalty from Youssef Mouihi to earn his side a precious draw.

Tunisia weren't the only North African side to endure a disappointing result at home either. Egpyt, who hosted Côte d'Ivoire in the round's stand-out match, could only scrape a 1-1 draw, leaving them looking vulnerable ahead of next month's return leg. The Elephants played a balanced match and Roda striker Sekou Cisse put them ahead in the 22nd minute from a counter attack, and it could have been all but over for the Pharaohs had substitute Ahmed El Mohamady not snatched a dramatic equaliser in the last minute.  

Ghana also performed poorly, losing 2-0 to Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou, although the Black Stars are protesting against the result, claiming that their opponents fielded two ineligible players, Saidou Maidy Panandetigu and Fousseni Traore.

Return matches are scheduled for the weekend of 23-25 March and the winners will go into a draw to create three groups from which the table-toppers will secure Africa's allocated places at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing.