African Nations Cup kicks-off, Togo called home, I get run out
SO the African Cup of Nations finally gets underway in Luanda, with hosts Angola drawing 4-4 with Mali in an attempt to encourage the watching world to concentrate on the football after the tragic shooting of Togo's team bus a 1,000 miles north in Cabinda.
They made quite a spectacle of it, lots of dancing, lots of goals, lots of atmosphere. Angola threw away a 4-0 lead in a quite astonishing opener. But it will take more than this to dispel the pall hanging over the tournament.
Togo's players bravely tried to stay and play their part despite the shooting which left four dead in the northern enclave which has been seeking independence for 50 years. But the Togo government has summoned them home.
Manchester City's former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who emerged unhurt but tearful after the incident on Friday, said: "We all decided to do something good for the country and play to honour those who died. Unfortunately, the head of state and the country's authorities have decided otherwise. We will pack up and go home. The head of state knows what is good for our careers and our lives.
"As captain and spokesman of Togo, I spoke with the captain and the Ivory Coast delegation and with the Ghanaians. They expressed their support by saying they were ready to leave the competition if we did. At the end of the day, we realised that they were ready to continue. It is still a continent where a World Cup will take place in South Africa.
"If we speak of the dead, the competition should have been cancelled. But CAF have decided otherwise. We're going back and we wish good luck to those who will remain, especially to Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Ghana.
"What I have told their leaders is that they may be attacked at any time in Cabinda. I hope they will be cautious."
Meanwhile the world will continue to link the atrocity in Cabinda with this year's World Cup in South Africa. It's 1,700 miles from there to where I am in Johannesburg awaiting the decisive fourth cricket Test between South Africa and England.
This is a different country, at peace since 1993 when democracy arrived with Nelson Mandela. The Mail on Sunday has carried a piece today about a tourist being shot at on New Year's eve and others are suggesting the whole of Africa is dangerous after the Togo incident.
It isn't, as I tried to explain yesterday here and on Sky News. I got a mention in the Independent on Sunday today for my efforts. Danny Jordaan, head of the World Cup organising committee here, has issued his plea. I still fear the Americans and even the English will feel it is dangerous here.
The crime rates are high, many people carry guns, but I stand by my stance on this. Come to South Africa in June. See for yourself. The place is a miracle.
But enough of that. The England cricket team arrive in Johannesburg tonight and will train at The Wanderers, which I can see from my hotel window, tomorrow. South Africa have to win this one to level the series but they've had their country's best spinner, Imran Tahir, ruled out of their squad.
Born in Pakistan, Tahir married a Pretorian and has been here four years. Apparently he fits in with ICC regulations but somebody high up in the government here objected as he has not got permanent residence... wonder if it's something to do with local hereo Makhaya Ntini being axed from the squad?
Ntini took five wickets in the local one-day series for his province today, makes you wonder why they didn't keep him in the shake up.
Me? I went off and played cricket myself, with a local club at Marks Park near here. Great day, see the picture above. Thanks guys for a great game. Not sure who won, know I got run out, took a good catch and bowled like a drain but... hey, it's good to get out of the hotel and meet local people.
And the braai (barbecue) was good. Let's do it again when I'm back for the World Cup.