|Angola is hosting the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time [Paul Rhys]
Fear and doubt at the start of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations have given way to celebration at the November 11 national stadium in Luanda, as a party atmosphere reigns in the streets far from the threat of bullets in the north.
Overshadowing the 27th edition of one of the most eagerly-awaited contests in world football is the gun attack on Togo's team bus in Cabinda two days ago.
At the time of writing seems certain that the Togolese – due to play their first match against Ghana on Monday – will depart the country after the death of their Angolan bus driver and two of their travelling party in the disputed north western region.
In the latest of a series of conflicting reports, captain Emmanuel Adebayor said the players had given in to pressure from their government to return to their families, reducing the tournament to 15 teams.
The feasibility of hosting matches in Cabinda is still unsure, with the separatist group Flec saying they will continue their violent campaign.
For Angolan organisers desperate for attention to turn to the football, Sunday's first match between the hosts and Mali in Group A cannot come soon enough.
Cabinda remains a worry, and the organisers have a heavy duty of care to Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso, who appear set to remain and play in Group B – whatever form that group may now take.
Practical problems may arise at the match in Luanda – this is the first time that Angola have hosted the tournament – but there is no real prospect of similar violence in the capital.
On the way to the Estadio do Novembre 11 – named for Angola's day of independence from Portuguese rule – happily shouting groups of supporters in black, red and gold were gathering to see their heroes play.
"Angola, Angola – do not let us down," may not strike the most optimistic note, but it was being chanted with feeling from the backs of trucks, motorcycle seats and the roadside.
The pervading feeling in the city is one of joy and expectation.
Ghana demanded extra security for its
team ahead of the tournament [AFP]
Visiting eyes witnessing the poverty of much of the population here would imagine that joy is something to be cherished when it comes.
Huge swathes of Luanda are taken up by shanty towns of varying quality of build.
Tin shacks perch on the edges of cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, rubbish streaming down the crags to collect at the side of the highway where children play or collect old car tyres to roll back up the hill to the homes.
Not far from the immense Boavista slum, on the other side of this highway, the brand new Angola team hotel is heavily guarded, separated from a group of makeshift breezeblock homes and a fenced off public beach.
Angola is one of the world's biggest oil producers, but it seems clear that most of the oil cash is not trickling down to the general population – a fact behind much of the trouble in the enclave of Cabinda, where civil war (officially) ended later than in the rest of the country, in 2002.
In Luanda, today is all about football.
As defender Kali told a press conference on Saturday: "It's the opening of the tournament and a beautiful party is being prepared for us.
"We have to be there at that party and give happiness to our supporters."
Angola are back on the big stage after qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 2006.
Ranked a lowly 95th in the world rankings, the hosts owe much to home advantage for being among the favourites for the trophy.
Guided by experienced coach Manuel Jose, they face a tough test if they are not to immediately disappoint those cagey fans against Mali, who boast a wealth of experience from to teams in Europe.
Frederic Kanoute, the former English Premier League striker, is still terrorising defences for Sevilla in Spain, with fellow Malians Seydou Keita, Mahamadou Diarra and Momo Sissoko playing for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Italians Juventus respectively.
Those testing the broadcast feed at the stadium on Saturday produced a scoreline of Angola 8-1 Mali, with all the goals coming in the first 10 minutes.
In reality, simply avoiding defeat would be a relief going into Angola's other two Group A matches against Malawi and Algeria.
On Monday, eyes will turn back to Cabinda and the scheduled matches between Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso – and Ghana and Togo.
Ghana may, of course, have no one to play. Given the rumours flying around the tournament, it is hard to know whether to put much credence in the notion of a last-gasp parachuting in of Morocco to take Togo's place.
With so much upheaval already, little could now come as a surprise.
Source: Al Jazeera