MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AFP) – The glut of first-round draws at the 2015 Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea does not surprise former African superstar Kalusha Bwalya.
There have been 10 in 16 matches — the halfway mark of the biennial African football showpiece — with the drawing of lots looming as a tiebreaker in two of the four groups.
Eight of the 10 draws have been 1-1, including all four Group D games involving Cameroon, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Mali in the capital Malabo.
But it is not yet a Cup of Nations first-round record.
When South Africa hosted the 2013 tournament there were 13 draws in 24 first-round matches, helped by Morocco and Zambia drawing all three group games.
However, if the five draws every eight matches trend continues in Equatorial Guinea, a new mark will be established during the remaining eight group fixtures.
Former striker Bwalya, voted 1988 African Footballer of the Year, puts the draw spate down to extreme competitiveness.
“The high number of draws does not surprise me as there is so little between the teams,” said the Zambian football federation president. “There are no obvious favourites to win this Cup of Nations — there are at least eight teams who could go all the way.
“Watch out for the outsiders, too. Burkina Faso were given no chance in 2013 and reached the final.”
The number of first-round draws has varied considerably since the Cup of Nations expanded to 16 teams for the 1996 tournament in South Africa.
There were just three in 1996, in 2006 in Egypt and in 2012 in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, but 10 in 2002 in Mali.
While crowds in Malabo, Bata, Ebebiyin and Mongomo have been treated to many fiercely contested games, goals have been scarce with just 30 in the 16 games.
The record for first-round goals is 72 at the 1998 tournament in Burkina Faso, fuelled by a glut in a group including debutants Namibia.
The Namibian Brave Warriors were involved in three goal fests, losing 4-1 to South Africa and 4-3 to Ivory Coast and drawing 3-3 with Angola.
There were 70 mini-league goals at the 2008 Cup of Nations in Ghana while the low point was a paltry 35 in Mali 13 years ago.
No player at the 2015 tournament has scored more than once and the 30 goals include two penalties and one own goal.
Footballers tiring in 30-degree celsius heat (86 degrees fahrenheit) could explain why 22 of the goals have come after half-time.
Meanwhile, Ghana have been involved in two dramatic finishes, losing to a 93rd-minute goal by Senegal’s Moussa Sow and winning through a 92nd-minute strike by captain Asamoah Gyan.