Cameroun came and left without winning a single point but they can take solace in the knowledge that theirs is a team in transition. They had no business losing to Japan, they had their chances against Denmark and many of their fans felt undone by the referee but then they had to score more than their opponents which they did not. Having lost two straight matches and with no mathematical or realistic chance of qualifying, they went into their last match against the Netherlands with nothing but pride to play for, they lost 2-1 and thus completed their participation at this years FIFA World Cup. Cameroun was the first country to be eliminated from the tournament.
South Africa may have exited at the first stage but they did not go down without a fight. Having picked up a one all draw against Mexico, the desire to come back from a goal down exposed them to Diego Forlan and his Uruguayan army, thereby suffering more goals. They lost 3-nil and that meant they had to hammer France in their last group match to stand a chance but despite going two goals up, they could only win by a one goal margin. They lost out on qualification for the next stage purely on account of a poorer goal count compared to Mexico. They beat a multiple finalist and a former world champion in France and that was the high point of their campaign. They also avenged their 3-nil defeat to France at the France 98 FIFA World Cup.
Nigeria was consistent in their loss to Argentina having lost two previous World Cup encounters to the South Americans, but many expected them to beat Greece which they did not do. Few would have expected Kaita to lose control of his consciousness, but that along with some school boy mistakes upfront by Yakubu Ayegbeni and Chinedu Obasi meant that they became the first team to lose a game after going a goal up at the 19th FIFA World Cup. Miraculously though, Nigeria had a chance to become the first country to play at the second round of a FIFA Senior World Cup on 3 points simply by beating South Korea. Just like they did against Greece, they went a goal up against the Koreans and Kaita was not around to get the blame this time around. Yakubu Ayegbeni improved on his inability to score by somehow contriving to refuse to score with the goal at his mercy. That miss must go down in history as the greatest miss of the FIFA World Cup ever. Anyone anywhere in the world would have scored except the man who did not. It is absolutely inexplicable. Scoring a penalty a few minutes afterward was not enough to redeem his reputation as he was yanked off by Lars Lagerback. Nigeria refused to beat South Korea and was eliminated having managed a meagre one point after three matches. Of the six African countries, Nigeria was the most disappointing. They had their chances both in front of goal and indeed in terms of qualification but they played like they had a right to go through, South Korea proved them wrong.
Algeria had a memorable stalemate against England but losing their first match against Slovenia was their greatest undoing. They also lost their final match against the U.S. Few people expected them to qualify from that group but they did their chances no good with that howler by their goal keeper in the first match. Playing in a group comprising Brazil and Portugal meant that Cote d’voire had their work cut out. They played well against Portugal and should have won but for their naivety in front of goal. They lost to Brazil after Luis Fabiano was allowed to glaringly control the ball with his hands and Brazil won the controversial encounter. With Portugal beating North Korea 7-nil, it was going to take something of the Supernatural for Cote d’voire to qualify even if Brazil beat Portugal. The boys did their job, beating North Korea 3-nil in a match that again showed the profligacy of the African teams in front of goal, but Brazil and Portugal settled for a nil-all draw after Portugal were let off the hook by several missed chances.
Ghana qualified from a relatively tough group and was the only African survivors for the second round. Up against the U.S., they showed their resilience and self belief to go through to the quarter-finals becoming the 3rd African Country to do so after Cameroun’s heroics at Italia 90 and Senegal’s at Korea/Japan 2002. Ghana’s journey through the World Cup continues and they can be proud of what they have achieved so far. They must keep fighting the African fight and I know they now carry the energy of an entire continent on their shoulders. As they go on, the Vuvuzela and the voices of Africa will lead them on. Viva Africa!