Africa bows out early again
Peter Odemwingie (AFP)
Cape Town - It was, of all people, a half-African who spoke the loudest.
"We must become the world champions," said Ghanaian player Kevin Prince Boateng of Berlin - father from Ghana, mother from Germany - ahead of the World Cup.
"The entire continent is waiting for an African team to finally win the world championship."
Now it looks as though Africa must wait a while longer.
The last remaining teams from the continent, Nigeria and Algeria, have now been ousted in the second round by two European teams, France and Germany.
Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi, after his team's 2-0 defeat against the French, appeared to be at a loss for words when asked why Africa does not make better use of the talent of its players, and why all five African teams have once again bowed out so early.
"I don't know why ... Perhaps we aren't strong enough, maybe we aren't focussed enough," he said.
The latter aspect could be a major reason, because the patterns are by now familiar - disputes over bonuses, boycotts of training sessions, and high-level politicians interfering or even arriving at the team camps.
And then, early elimination from the cup.
Before their second-round loss to France, the Nigerians also experienced what by now are nearly traditional disruptive circumstances.
"This is part of the culture when ministers or other representatives of the state arrive to talk with us and motivate us," Keshi said in an attempt to explain what happened.
In this case, the country's minister of sports flew in a day before the France match, and according to Keshi, he "had our bonus along with him."
Ghana trainer Kwesi Appiah likewise was visibly troubled trying to explain the problem.
"The system in Africa is different than in Europe," he said a day before Ghana bowed out of the cup in the first round.
In a spectacular move, an estimated three million euros were flown in to the team camp in Brazil.
Almost in desperation Appiah explained to sports writers, "You have to understand, we come from differing regions."
In fact, African players are concerned about not getting their share of the millions that FIFA pays out to all the participating countries.
They worry that if the money is transferred only after the World Cup is over it will get diverted to their football associations and to the pockets of corrupt functionaries.
So the arguments about money and the boycotts of team practices certainly aren't helpful for a successful World Cup performance.
But a second problem for African teams also is evident in the brash comments by Kevin-Prince Boateng - a chronic overconfidence in themselves.
Most of the African countries have superstars in their ranks, such as Didier Drogba for the Ivory Coast and Samuel Eto'o for Cameroon.
But otherwise the teams have to fill their World Cup rosters with second-rate players, who like some the Nigerians, earn their money playing in the Israeli football league.
As long as this is the case and nothing changes in African football's structures, coaches face a future like that of Keshi after the match with France - complaining about the referees and stressing how "painful" it is to be eliminated.