Less than three years after it hosted the football World Cup, South Africa is once again in the spotlight. This time, staging the Africa Cup of Nations - the continent's biggest sporting event.

But can this tournament boost the image of African football abroad?

"The overall leadership of our football since the World Cup has been very weak and that is the issue that bothers most fans here. Since the two-and-a-half years since the World Cup, there has been no tangible progress in guiding out football at the elite level .... There is a contradiction between what is happening on the ground and what is happening at the pinnacle."

- Carlos Amato, football journalist

South Africa already has many of the facilities needed to host these types of events, because it invested billions of dollars for the World Cup in 2010. A report on that spending, which was released in November, says:

  • South Africa spent more than $3bn during the tournament
  • Just over $1bn was spent on building and upgrading stadiums alone
  • Some of those stadiums have been underused or are losing money
  • Around $1.3bn dollars went to improving roads, rail and air links in the country - money the government says has had a long term impact for ordinary South Africans

There are no definitive figures on how much South Africa earned from the event, but the report said the World Cup left an intangible legacy and changed the country's international image.

Some people remember Cameroon's World Cup run in 1990 as the moment when African football burst on to the world scene, and they became the continent's first team to reach the quarter finals.

But in the last few years, it feels like football has stagnated. Barely a handful of African teams have made it past the first round in a World Cup since then.

Still, the World Cup in South Africa was a boost to African pride and it also saw Ghana get through to the quarter finals.

"In past African championships, we thought that a lot of the European players have brought some of their defensive and physical expertise back to the tournament - which was negative. This time I am not sure; it is not moving forward in the way we would like to see because around the world the game is becoming more creative and more positive. But that has not been reflected in what I have been able to see on the Afcon so far."

- Keir Radnedge, football columnist and author

As the Africa Cup of Nations now comes to a close, all eyes are on Burkina Faso and Nigeria who will play for the right to be named champions of Africa on Sunday. They earned their place in the final after beating tournament favourites Ghana last week.

Nigeria's much praised performance at this tournament brought back memories of its glory days during the 1990s, when the team dominated African football.

For rank underdogs Burkina Faso, this is only the second time they have made it past the first round. So getting to the final in itself was a great accomplishment, although they will certainly be looking to go all the way on Sunday.

But away from the action on the field, there are plenty of other winners and losers.

While top European clubs are constantly on the search for the next undiscovered talent in African football, there is a dark side to the rise of the sport in Africa: a growth in the trafficking of young men trying to make it professionally, many of whom are tricked by agents and end up living on the streets of Europe's capitals.

So, has African football improved since South Africa brought the World Cup to the continent in 2010? Is football heading in the right direction, or is the game stagnating in Africa?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika is joined by guests: Carlos Amato, a freelance football writer for the Mail & Guardian and the Times; Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa; and Keir Radnedge, a columnist for World Soccer Magazine and author of The complete Encyclopedia of Soccer.

Source: Al Jazeera