No matter how Ghana get on against USA tonight, Africa is having to come to terms with five of their six teams being eliminated in the group stage when so much more was expected. The consensus is that Algeria, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria and South Africa had the talent, so what went wrong?
Africans cite the quality of competition and the narrow difference at the highest level that divides winning and losing. Lars Lagerback, the Swedish coach of Nigeria, is perhaps well-placed to answer that as someone with no experience on the continent until a few months ago
“There’s a really small marginality when you’re playing on this level,” he said. “The only thing I can see is that – and I’m not sure I’m right – but maybe they need a little bit more continuity.”
I feel sorry for Africa as a whole. It’s like we’ve let down a whole lot of people, the whole continent.
As an example he held up Super Eagles legend Nwankwo Kanu as the sort of experienced leader that might return to Nigeria and help develop the game. The only African coach at these finals, Algeria's Rabah Saadane, largely agreed with the Lagerback.
“I think that Africa is on the right track concerning individual potential," he said. "Now we need some stability, especially in the national teams. They need a lot of discipline and order. I think that African teams, in a few years, will be amongst the best in the world.”
For the players, of course, there was more sadness seeping through their answers. “We’re sad for Africa, for Cameroon and for each other,” said Jean Makoun after the once-proud Indomitable Lions were the continent's first team to be eliminated, before trying to explain the gulf between African teams and the rest.
“We know that there are certain nations that can get together, bring in number of very talented players and perform very well. In that respect, some of them are still slightly superior to us Africans. We still have room for improvement with regards to certain other nations.”
Nigeria's Vincent Enyeama, possibly the goalkeeper of the tournament to this point, touched on the same level of regret and hinted at another possible cause upon their elimination: the high level of expectation.
“I feel sorry for Africa as a whole,” he said. “It’s like we’ve let down a whole lot of people, and we just have to apologise and say ‘we’re sorry' for letting the whole country down, the whole continent down. What can I say?”
The sometimes overwhelming desire to succeed was succinctly put by young Côte d'Ivoire star Salomon Kalou: “I think all of us have put lots of pressure on ourselves because this World Cup is being played on our continent.
I think that African teams, in a few years, will be amongst the best in the world.
"Expectations were huge and we owed it to ourselves to perform well, but the pressure has caused us more stress than anything else and even inhibited our talents. There have been a few players who haven’t been up to the standard required. Their abilities have been crushed by the pressure they’ve put on their own shoulders.”
But even with the post-mortems being written, Kalou's team-mate Didier Zokora took a typically African, typically optimistic look at South Africa 2010, insisting that the continent had achieved what it set out to do – host a grand footballing event that the world could enjoy.
“[This tournament] will remain in world history. Everyone will remember it as the first African World Cup. This is Nelson Mandela's country, and he did so much for Africa,” he said. “Disappointing? Compared to 2006, I think we've made a lot of progress. For me, the most important thing is the image we’ve shown to the world.”