JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Africa will look back on the World Cup with mixed feelings, still unable to make a breakthrough on the pitch but achieving a major image boost off it.
Its hosting of a major sporting event for the first time has proven a triumph for a continent usually capturing headlines for conflicts and upheavals.
The organisation of the event in South Africa has been declared a success, overcoming widespread fears and scepticism.
But that will not be the image left behind by a record six African sides that competed at the month-long event, only one of which managed to progress past the first round.
It keeps up a consistently disappointing return from a continent that Pele once predicted would produce a world champion by the turn of the last century.
Ten years on and there is nothing to suggest that prophecy is even close to being realised, even though Ghana came within the width of the crossbar of setting a new benchmark.
The Black Stars became only the third African side to reach the quarter-final and had Asamoah Gyan not squandered a last minute penalty in extra time against Uruguay, would have been the first from the continent into the final four.
But snatching defeat from the jaws of victory seemed almost inevitable given Africa’s continuing inability to deliver on its potential.
Since the 1998 World Cup, when the continent had its representation increased to five, African sides have won just 14 of 69 matches at the finals.
In South Africa, there were four wins in 18 games, a distinctly poor percentage return. Ghana won two matches en route to the last eight, over Serbia in their group and in extra time against the United States in the second round.
The other two were won by hosts South Africa, who beat a demoralised France in their last group game and the Ivory Coast, whose win over North Korea came with them already effectively eliminated.
Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria all went home without a win, the latter’s performance leading to a government decision to impose a two-year ban on the side competing internationally, later rescinded.
Not much was expected of Algeria but Cameroon had high hopes, fuelled by a successful qualifying campaign.
Division in their camp led to key players being left out for the vital opening group game against Japan, and a surprise defeat was followed by two more losses.
Nigeria had fired their coach six months before the World Cup, leaving replacement Lars Lagerback three weeks to prepare. The resulting failure came as no surprise.
The Ivorians also appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson on the eve of the tournament but their hopes were already slim given a tough draw and then injury to Didier Drogba, who bravely played 15 days after breaking his forearm but did not make much impact.
Hosts South Africa flattered briefly but then got hammered by Uruguay in their second game, condemning them to becoming the first hosts to fail to get past the first round.
It left Ghana carrying the continent’s hopes into the knockout stage, where they overcame the gritty Americans with an extra time goal.
The controversial way in which they were denied a quarter-final win by Uruguay, where Luis Suarez handled on the line to deny Ghana a last-gasp winner, will rankle for some time but it does not detract from the fact it was yet another unfulfilled mission for African soccer.