African dreams hit by width of crossbar

African dreams hit by width of crossbar

Ghana had one foot in the semis but Gyans miss cost them dear

African dreams hit by width of crossbar

But had the Black Stars converted a last minute penalty in Friday's quarterfinal against Uruguay in Johannesburg, and in the process become the first African side into a World Cup semifinal, the early exit of the continent's five other representatives would have been forgotten in a wave of euphoria.

Asamoah Gyan's miss has left African football to reflect on a tournament where much was expected of a record entry of six teams in the finals but little progress evidenced.  For a second successive tournament, Ghana were the only African side to progress past the first phase and the continent's record over the last four World Cup finals is a now a paltry 14 wins in 69 matches.

Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria were eliminated without winning a single game, while the Ivory Coast and hosts South Africa won their only group matches when it was already too late to clinch a top two place in their group.

Ghana were inconsistent in their group matches too, qualifying second in Group D with four points and two goals from the penalty spot but their second round win over the United States suddenly held out the prospect of a positive African return from the 2010 finals.

"I think that had we had two teams in the quarterfinals or one team in the semifinals, it would have been seen as a successful tournament for Africa," said former Zambian international Kalusha Bwalya, who was the 1988 African Footballer of the Year.

"But it is a big worry if you look at the stats. Frankly, we must call a spade a spade. There is still lots of work that needs to be done. We just haven't made enough progress."

"I am very happy about Ghana," said their most famous footballer, Abedi Pele, who had two sons in the squad and was a three-time African Footballer of the Year himself.  "I was happy that we had six teams at the World Cup but not that only one advanced to the next round. I am disappointed by the African teams."

Ghana's run to the last-eight at least matched Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. Earlier in the tournament, Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba said it was unrealistic to believe African sides would do well just because the tournament was being played on the continent.  "You have to be careful not to be harsh on the African teams because this tournament was not easy," he said.

As to an explanation for Africa's inability to show marked improvement since the continent was first allowed five teams at the finals in 1998, Bwalya said: "I think our individual players are among the best in the world and we have seen their profile increase a lot.