With pre-tournament favourites Senegal out of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations picture, Ghana and Cote dÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Ivoire limping instead of flying, there is a general feeling that this could be the widest ever race for the continental football extravaganza.
The early struggles of the available giants and the conspicuous absence of others such as defending champions Egypt, Cameroon and Nigeria means come February 12, when the tournament ends, the trophy will have a new winner for the first time in 20 years.
Few though disagree that this race is wide open. On his blog, BBCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Piers Edwards shares this train of thought: Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is the most open tournament in years.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The tournament started on January 21 in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon with names of stars such as Demba Ba, Cheikh Tiote, Yaya Toure, Gervinho, Didier Drogba and Asamoah Gyan rolling off fansÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ tongues.
The same could not be said about these stars at the time of writing this on Friday. Drogba had fired more bullets into the sky than on target, managing one goal in two games for the Elephants.
The Manchester City driving force Yaya was just like any other average midfielder as the hugely underachieving but star-studded Elephants staggered to the quarter-finals. They qualified after labouring to win 1-0 and 2-0 against Sudan and Burkina Faso, respectively.
Teammate Gervinho had angered more fans in the terraces than goalkeepers and defenders with shocking wayward shooting you pray Arsene Wenger is not watching.
Petrol-dollar rich Gyan first-touch looked heavy in GhanaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 1-0 win over Botswana who packed their proverbial bus right at the back. More remarkably, Ba for the Teranga Lions of Senegal was on an early flight back to Newcastle having done his growing reputation little favour.
Absence of the Pharaohs, the Indomitable Lions and the Super Eagles also did not help matters either in this football panorama, neutrals such as Lesotho FA information officer, Mikia Ntanda Kalati argued on Friday.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The tournament has not lived up to the expectations, especially star-studded teams such as Ivory Coast and Senegal,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kalati told SportsXtra through e-mail when asked to rate the ongoing Nations Cup.
But Zambian sports journalist Matimba Mkonje does not subscribe to the view that the ongoing showpiece has failed to capture the imagination of Africa compared to previous editions.
Mkonje could be speaking from the point of view of the euphoria that has gripped the neighbouring country after ChipolopoloÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sensational win over Senegal and entertaining 2-2 draw against Libya.
Against all odds, the magic seems to be coming from the Cosafa bloc with silky-skilled Rainford Kalaba driving Chipolopolo and Emmanuel Mayuka pulling the trigger with finesse upfront.
As of Friday, the chase for the Golden Boot Award had the likes of Manucho of Angola with three goals and two each for Mayuka of Zambia, LibyaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ahmed SaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ad and SudanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Mohammed Ahmed Bashir.
At the time of writing, no player had achieved a hat-trick.
FAM commercial manager Casper Jangale chooses to look at the early impressive showing of the minnows as a good measure of improved standards and entertainment value.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is one of the best Afcon finals, especially to the so-called Ã¢â‚¬Ëœunder dogsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. It seems football in Africa has come of age. Malawi should not just emulate, but learn lessons from it,Ã¢â‚¬Â Jangale said.
Kalati seems to agree: Ã¢â‚¬Å“There have been some positives for teams like Zambia and Equatorial Guinea.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Could it perhaps be too early to make sweeping statements that giants such as Ghana and Cote dÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Ivoire are struggling? Are they perhaps saving their best for the quarter-finals when winning is not optional?
Former Bata Bullets and MTL WanderersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Burundian coach, Nsanzwirimo Ramadhan thinks, indeed, it is too early to judge the Nations Cup favourites.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is a mixed bag. There is improvement, but in other games the standards have dropped. But it is so far, so good. And it is so early to say much,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Ramadhan who is following the action from his base in Durban, South Africa.
Ramadhan has a case with the Local Organising Committee for allowing some games such as the Zambia versus Libya 2-2 draw match to be played on a soggy pitch.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The pitch was not playable for the safety of the players and good show for spectators,Ã¢â‚¬Â he reasoned.
Perhaps, it is safe to say the best is yet to come from Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.