Huge swathes of empty seats, dull football and muted crowds – that’s my first impressions of the African Cup of Nations 2013.

Four games played, three draws and thank God for Mali, scoring near the end of their games with Niger to finally produce a winning team.

It started with South Africa drawing 0-0 with Cape Verde, a bunch of toothless blue sharks (their nickname) if ever there was one. Then Morocco and Angola also drew a blank, in another dire 90 minutes.

Ghana, second favourites, let a two goal lead slip against DR Congo, a much better game, but still failing to set the bush alight. Then it was Mali’s turn to capture the headlines, Seydou Keita scoring with three minutes to go and revealing under his shirt a plea: “Peace for Mali”, which makes you realize that so many of the participating countries are far from stable.
Attendances have not been good – there were block-loads of empty seats in Port Elizabeth for both games – just 7,000 saw Ghana and DR Congo play.

Like all tournaments with a group stage, a few tedious games have to be endured before the real action starts. At the moment, the games are sterile, characterized by poor finishing and wayward passing.

One thing that is becoming increasingly apparent for the newcomers to African football is that it is becoming increasingly European. In the past, the popular theory was that African players are very skilful, but indisciplined. They were strong and had a tendency to be over-physical – witness Cameroons in the World Cup.

The power is still there in the form of a driving midfielder in the mould of Papa Bouba Diop (Senegal) or Michael Essien (Ghana), but African football is lacking the creative middle-men who can spray passes around the pitch. And given the rest of world looks to Africa for the “Essien factor”, the solid type of player gets developed. This has driven some of the traditional attributes of African football – pace, invention and intricate skill – out of the game.

The African Cup of Nations always played to the clichés – commentators (rather patronizingly) described it as “colourful”, “happy”, “joyous” and something of a free-for-all. Recent tournaments have exploded that myth – the 2012 final ended 0-0 and went to penalties, both semi-finals ended 1-0 and the top goalscorer in the tournament scored just three goals. The 32 games yielded only 76 goals. Hardly the stuff of free-for-alls!

The 2013 series can only get better!