Will an African nation win the World Cup this century?
Pele regularly demonstrates why he is an infinitely better at football than being a pundit but his famous line that an African team would triumph by the year 2000 is quoted more than any of his other theories. Watching the exciting Cameroon and Nigeria in the 1990s raised hopes that defensive frailties may one day be improved upon and a serious challenge for the trophy be mounted.
Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 were arguably better teams than the aforementioned, so progress was being made.
But World Cup 2014 has been a disappointment for the African nations. Nobody managed to reach the quarter-finals. It would be wrong to call it a failure though because Algeria were stunning, Nigeria's performances were underrated and Ivory Coast did at least go further than before.
A tougher critique comes from columnist Osasu Obayiuwana, a man who knows African football inside out and despairs at the defending frailty that cost all five teams dear.
|Cameroon arrived late, shione little and went home amid match-fixing allegations [AFP]
Off the pitch, there was disgrace.
Cameroon's performances brought shame to a nation that gave us the indomitable Lions. But their behaviour was wretched. They arrived with arguments about money and bonuses. Now there are allegations of match-fixing against players, subsequently denied by the alleged whistleblower. While we are all desperate for it not to be true, the damage to their reputations is already done.
Ghana are also stained by match-fixing allegations but not before a $3m bonus kitty for players had to be flown in by the Government to 'keep them sweet'. Two out of their best three were sent home, one for for alleged assault on a team official, the other for verbal abuse of coach. All this hours before their decisive final group game against Portugal which they ended up losing.
A good win would have taken them through. And then photographs emerged of players kissing wads of cash. The heart sinks. That was one plane you wish hadn't taken off.
If it wasn't for the ghastly Suarez, the scandal of Boeteng and Muntari's apparent behaviour would have been given more attention. It is mind-blowing. This is the World Cup. The pinnacle. History will afford them one line at best when the details of the greatest ever tournament are celebrated. In the rogue's gallery.
Excellent but unlucky
Nigeria too, missed a training session over a bonus dispute. Almost unforgiveable. But let's not despair either, and let's remember the positives. I watched a re-run of their game against France. They were excellent and unlucky. The tackling of Pogba and Matuidi in the French midfield that day crossed a line. Neither should have stayed on the pitch.
Stephen Keshi had created history becoming the first African coach to lead a team to knockout stage. We should celebrate that, as some bemoan him stepping down after many months of turbulence with his country's FA. We should not forget the terrorist attacks on Nigerian people watching World Cup games. The pain of failing to reach quarter-finals does not compare to the plight of those who lost family.
And then to Algeria. Wow.
There had been whispers about their quality and form coming into the tournament. From what I'd seen of them, I've been able to say on-air for Al Jazeera that their ranking of 22, Africa's highest, is justified, Their Bosnian coach Halilhodzic is wily and that the European club football the squad members have been playing has helped them improve. But...
I have only once in 36 years of watching football seen Germany outplayed like that. I am usually prepared to give credit to German resilience and finding a way to win. In this instance that told half the story. They were lucky to get away with it. It was another Croatia '98 if Algeria, excellent in most areas, had a goal-scorer like Suker.
For an indication of the pride their performance gave Algerians, please see the the moment when Al Jazeera English carried news at full-time versus Russia, and a historic qualification for the knockout stage. Our presenter Sana Hamouche, try as she might, simply could not control her emotions. If you'd seen or heard the effect the match had on her off-air, you'll be wondering how she even made it from the newsroom to the presenter's seat.
Sana's team had become the first North Africans to reach a World Cup knockout stage, and the first to score four goals in an a World Cup game (v Korea).
So depressing are some of the dramas around African teams in Brazil 2014 that I want to end with a ray of light, beyond Algeria's efforts. The future is bright for them. Witness this extraordinary moment as Cameroon depart the scene. They should have had their lions' tails between their legs. But a boy asks Samuel Eto'o for a hug. if you haven't seen it, it will break your heart.
To his teammates we say this: corruption? At a World Cup? Please please let it not be true in any way, shape or form.