By Brian Oliver

Brian OliverThe first significant moments in modern African football had far less global impact than the sight of a middle-aged man dancing with a corner flag in Italy in 1990.

In the late 1950s there was the creation of the continent's governing body, the expulsion of apartheid South Africa (long before the Olympic Movement and other sports took action), and the start of the Africa Cup of Nations.

The first World Cup win by an African side in the finals - Tunisia against Mexico - was in 1978, and four years later Algeria famously beat West Germany 2-1. When FIFA staged what has now become the Under 17 World Cup for the first time in China in 1985, Nigeria won it: the first African triumph in a FIFA competition.

Pelé was the most high-profile "expert" who predicted more glory in the years to come, namely an African nation winning the World Cup by the turn of the century.

Nobody paid much attention, though, until Roger Milla came along and made the world sit up and take notice of African football.

When Milla came out of retirement aged 38, to play at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, he helped Cameroon to become the first team from Africa to reach the knockout stages. He performed his corner-flag dance after his two goals against Colombia that set up a quarterfinal against England. Milla created two goals but Gary Lineker had the last word and Cameroon, having led, were beaten 3-2 in the most exciting game of the tournament.

Roger Milla came along and made the world sit up and take notice of African football ©Getty ImagesRoger Milla came along and made the world sit up and take notice of African football ©Getty Images

Milla, Cyrille Makanaky and their teammates had added a welcome touch of vibrancy and colour to an otherwise lacklustre tournament. They were lauded in songs in the Caribbean. Cameroon shirts became a fashion item around the world. England invited their quarterfinal victims to play a friendly on a freezing February night a few months later, and Wembley was sold out. Suddenly, African football was sexy.

In 1992 the English football magazine, When Saturday Comes, organised a trip for its more adventurous readers to Senegal, to the Africa Cup of Nations. Games were shown live on British television, John Fashanu and Garth Crooks were sent to report for the BBC, and the world's news agencies and top newspapers gave it a level of coverage it had never previously enjoyed.

A golden period had begun but, sadly, on the opening weekend of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, much of the lustre has gone. The BBC will show no games, and no top newspapers have sent their own correspondents. The world has turned away, and African football is seen as anything but sexy nowadays. It desperately needs new stars and, most importantly, credible results at the World Cup.

Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto'o have retired from international football, and Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha are a distant memory. This tournament will be as good a place as any for emerging talent to stake a claim to be the flag bearers of the next generation.

Wilfried Bony, after his multi-million move to Manchester City, will be the prime focus of attention and the Ivorian is expected to be the continent's next superstar.

Wilfried Bony will be the prime focus of attention in Equatorial Guinea ©Getty ImagesWilfried Bony will be the prime focus of attention in Equatorial Guinea ©Getty Images

There are others who might shine, too, including two from FC Porto's forward line: Yacine Brahimi of Algeria and Vincent Aboubakar of Cameroon. Ghana's Baba Rahman and Ivory Coast's Serge Aurier, who play for Augsburg and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, are defenders to look out for, and in midfield there are high hopes of Bertrand Traoré, the Burkina Faso teenager who has been loaned to Vitesse Arnhem by Chelsea.

There are plenty of coaches who are worried about the future for Africa, given that there are so few teenagers coming through. "I can see where they're coming from," said Quinton Fortune, the former Manchester United and South Africa midfielder. "When I was playing Nigeria were the team, but look at them now - they didn't even qualify.

"I left to go to Europe when I was 14 and got my football education there. There are good coaches in Africa but not at the same level as in Europe. And the standard of the league is nowhere near as good. That's why I always tell kids back in South Africa to get out to Europe as soon as they can."

Whatever happens, Equatorial Guinea 2015 is going to be quite an experience. It is very, very expensive for visitors but, judging by a colourful and enjoyable Opening Ceremony and a thrilling 1-1 draw between the hosts and Congo it will be a memorable three weeks.

There must have been 40,000 in the 35,700-capacity stadium, with all the walkways and gangways blocked by spectators. Congo were unhappy that their journey to the stadium took more than an hour, and they have complained about their accommodation. There have been other mishaps, but the Cup of Nations would not be the same without them. Besides, what could anybody expect, given that the Equatoguineans had 57 days to organise everything after Morocco's late withdrawal as hosts?

Fortunately, I was able to persuade my then employers, the Daily Telegraph, that they should report on the Cup of Nations for the first time in 1992. It was unforgettable, not least because of a Cameroon-England rematch on the tennis court and a manager who literally fell off the shelf.

When the tournament reached the quarterfinal stage seven teams stayed in one hotel - the one I was in. Access to players was too easy for words. They were only too happy to talk because many still played in Africa and any publicity might help them towards a transfer to Europe.

Some of the coaches were even more approachable. On one occasion Gerry Saurer, the manager of Kenya, invited his Morocco counterpart and four reporters for a late-night vodka session. There were too few seats in the hotel room so Saurer, an Austrian hotelier who did a bit of coaching on the side, sat cross-legged on a shelf, and we talked away until the early hours. Suddenly there was a loud crash. We looked round to see Saurer on the floor: he had drunk himself to sleep and fallen off. He didn't feel a thing, thanks to the vodka.

Every day the hotel tennis court was taken by Milla, who had by now retired to become a Puma ambassador and media analyst. He played against his much younger colleague, a coach, and looked like a decent club player.

I had travelled with a friend who, like, me, was also a keen tennis player. We hatched a plot. Milla and his mate always started at the same time, and never booked. We reserved the court for 10am, turned up when they had just warmed up and told them they'd have to go for a swim instead, unless they fancied a World Cup rematch of doubles tennis between Cameroon and England. They agreed and had it not been for a few dodgy calls - let's say Milla would not make a great linesman - England might have pulled off a famous win. Cameroon won by two sets to one, and did it again the next day.

Nigeria won gold at the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics ©Getty ImagesNigeria won gold at the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics ©Getty Images

The next stop on Africa's football expansion programme was the United States. Nigeria had a memorable World Cup there in 1994 and, two years later, won gold at the Atlanta Olympics, defeating Brazil and Argentina on the way to glory. Kanu, who had won a Champions League medal with Ajax the year before, Okocha and Sunday Oliseh were global stars. So was George Weah, of Liberia, who in 1995 became the first African to be named world player of the year.

The football at the Cup of Nations was less exciting than that Olympic tournament but the working environment, compared to the restraints of covering football in Europe, was too good to be true. If Senegal in 1992 was a hugely enjoyable experience, there have been many more since.

There was the biggest outpouring of joy I have ever seen in 1998 (when, because the Telegraph's address was 1, Canada Square, I was accredited as a Canadian). More than a million people took to the unlit streets between the stadium and the city centre in Ouagadougou to celebrate host nation Burkina Faso's victory over Guinea, which took them into the quarterfinals. Grannies banging pots and pans, children on their parent's shoulders, everybody stamping their feet on the dusty earth and crowding on to the road, despite the police outriders, while chanting "Etalons! Etalons!" (Stallions - the team's nickname). And that was just for the media bus. If there had been such a thing as YouTube back then, the footage would have gone viral.

In Mali four years later Weah retired from international football after Liberia lost to Nigeria in Mopti, a picturesque staging post on the Niger river that is somewhat fancifully known as "the Venice of Africa".

Taribo West, the Nigerian defender who wore green hair braids, got sent off a lot and later became a pastor, organised a farewell at the team hotel in Bamako. It's one thing playing them at tennis, but you would not want to take on African footballers in a dance contest. Some of them can sing, too.

Asamoah Gyan would like to be a pop star ©Getty ImagesAsamoah Gyan would like to be a pop star ©Getty Images

One of the current stars who would like to be a pop star is Asamoah Gyan, the highest-paid African sportsman and the continent's all-time top scorer at the World Cup. Gyan, who plays for Ghana, earns his living - about £150,000 ($227,000/€197,000) a week tax-free - with Al Ain in the UAE Gulf League. He has appeared on a couple of "hip-life" music videos back home. Drogba is another who has performed on video.

Gyan was not around when Ghana held the Cup of Nations as co-hosts with Nigeria in 2000, but was one of their top players when they staged it on their own eight years later.

A lasting memory of the build-up to the opening game in 2000 was a spectator climbing up to the rafters inside the stadium to capture two pigeons; he wrung their necks, went behind the stand, plucked them and grilled them on the coals being used by a stall selling maize cobs.

In 2008 a small group of writers visited an out-of-the-way town to watch a Sunday afternoon match where, because there was no mower, the pitch was cut by hand with shears and scythes.

The Cup of Nations remains far removed from the sanitised world of European football. Fortune, who played in the tournaments in Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana-Nigeria, said, "I would love to take some English footballers out there so they can see what the conditions are like, how tough it is. They have no idea.

"My strongest memory of Burkina Faso, apart from not being in the starting team for the final, was the vultures. Every time we left our team hotel, for training or a match, the first thing we saw outside the gates was a flock of vultures. They were always there at the roadside waiting for us."

This year's tournament is in the most unlikely venue. Morocco withdrew only a couple of months ago because of fears about Ebola. Strange, then, that they should have welcomed Guinea, the only Ebola-zone country to qualify, to Morocco to prepare for the tournament. The Moroccans can expect a lengthy ban from the Confederation of African Football (CAF), though no date has been fixed for a punishment to be announced.

Morocco pulled out so late that there was talk of the tournament being postponed or moved to another continent. Qatar was ready to step in.

It would be unthinkable for any other continent to consider moving their Championship elsewhere, and CAF understandably sought an alternative.

Teodoro Obiang has not earned a good reputation in the West during his 35-year reign, but he is making the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations happen ©WikipediaTeodoro Obiang has not earned a good reputation in the West during his 35-year reign, but he is making the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations happen ©Wikipedia

Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang has not earned a good reputation in the West during his 35-year reign, but he does make things happen. He saw an opportunity and offered to host the Cup of Nations.

Organising the tournament at two months notice would surely have been beyond most other nations. Grass was flown in from Spain for the laying of new pitches, new training facilities were developed - all floodlit - and the hastily arranged Opening Ceremony was better than most for being simple.

There have been problems, most notably a shortage of adequate hotel rooms, and much criticism of CAF for staging the tournament at all, given the perceived risk of the Ebola virus spreading, and the human rights record of the host nation.

Organisers have put an anti-Ebola plan into operation, overseen by a committee that features top doctors from around the world, said CAF secretary general Hicham El Amrani. Every visitor to the country is screened, and a team of experts from Cuba have been flown in to help cope if there should be a case of the disease.

"We do not think there is a particular risk for this tournament, just as there is no particular risk for the many American oil workers who come here," said Junior Binyam, CAF's media director.

The oil and gas boom has given Obiang the money to spend on infrastructure projects, but critics say he spends far too little on health for the general population. Everywhere you look there are cranes and bulldozers, with new bridges, highways, airports and stadiums all having appeared in recent years. Most of the work is done by the Chinese, who have a significant presence in Equatorial Guinea.

Hicham El Amrani said CAF owes great thanks to Equatorial Guinea ©Getty ImagesHicham El Amrani said CAF owes great thanks to Equatorial Guinea ©Getty Images

Prices are remarkably high for Africa. Hoteliers in Bata charge $200 (£132/€173) a night or more for basic rooms that would cost $30 (£20/€26) to $40 (£26/€35) elsewhere in Africa. Food and drinks are more expensive than London and Paris. But at least the tournament is happening.

"We had 57 days to organise everything from scratch," said Fadipe Ambrosio, the technical director at Equatorial Guinea's national federation, who is venue co-ordinator in the capital city, Malabo.

"The biggest challenge was not security, or Ebola, or transport - it was putting the management structure in place in such a short time. There are about 3,000 people working on all the projects at the four venues. Fifty-seven days is not very long."

There is one other major worry, despite the full house of 35,700 at yesterday's opener: ticket sales. Unlike food and drink, tickets are cheap, with prices starting at less than $1 (£0.70/€0.90), but the uptake has been slow, as it usually is at the Cup of Nations.

President Obiang bought 40,000 himself - 10,000 to give away at each of the four venues. They are Malabo, a hub in the oil and gas industry; Bata, which at 250,000 is by far the biggest city in Equatorial Guinea; Mongomo, where Obiang has a home and where the 15,000-capacity stadium holds nearly twice the town's population; and Ebebiyín, a remote border city.

Crowds are predicted to be too low, hotel rooms too scarce, prices too high. But at least the tournament is going ahead.

"Can you imagine the damage it would have caused if there had been no competition?" El Amrani said. "Can you imagine FIFA being unable to organise the World Cup? We owe great thanks to Equatorial Guinea."

Brian Oliver is covering the Africa Cup of Nations for