|Ex-France star Patrick Vieira said Drogba couldn’t carry his Cote d’Ivoire team [GALLO/GETTY]|
Iberian neighbours Spain and Portugal avoided the humiliating fate of fellow European football powers Italy and France to reach the last 16 in Friday’s final games of the World Cup group stage.
African sides are licking their wounds after five of their record six participating nations went out at the continent’s first World Cup, disappointing millions of fans.
Cote d’Ivoire were the latest to fail, coming third in Group G despite a convincing 3-0 victory over North Korea on Friday.
Didier Drogba’s team would have needed a giant score to get through – and for Portugal to lose – but showed no sign of that despite weak opposition from the Asians.
As the “Azzurri” and “Les Bleus” were receiving a savaging back home, European champions Spain started sharply to squeeze past Chile 2-1 and top Group H.
A sumptuous curling long-range shot by David Villa, after Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo found himself stranded, put the Spaniards on their way, before Andres Iniesta made it two with the 100th goal of the tournament.
The South Americans, who went down to ten men but still pulled a goal back through substitute Rodrigo Millar, also go through in second place after winning their first two games.
Earlier, Portugal drew 0-0 with Brazil to guarantee their second round berth. But the surprisingly dreary game, between two sides with a history of beautiful football, drew boos at the end that even drowned out the local vuvuzela trumpets.
Brazil ended top of Group G, followed by Portugal.
Friday’s matches drew the curtain on a fascinating group stage in South Africa where there have been shocks galore, none more so than the departure of 2006 winners Italy and runners-up France, both astonishingly ending bottom of their groups.
A rebellion by French players, who refused to train in protest at the expulsion of Nicolas Anelka for insulting his coach, overshadowed even their abject performances on the field, including a defeat to South Africa.
Italy, for their part, could only draw with New Zealand and Paraguay before spectacularly losing 3-2 to Slovakia in what remains the game of the tournament so far.
Football is a religion in Italy and the 2006 heroes’ exit plunged the nation into introspection.
“Azzurri, the mirror of a country,” wrote one newspaper columnist, Oliviero Beha.
“A country without memory, without identity, without an idea of the future.”
Ghana now carry African hopes in the first World Cup on the continent and will meet the United States on Saturday for a place in the quarter finals, the furthest any African team has gone in the tournament’s history.
With Pele’s forecast that an African side would win a World Cup before the end of the 20th century ringing hollow, there is soul-searching round the continent as to what has gone wrong.
French midfielder Patrick Vieira, who left his Senegalese homeland as a boy, said there was too much pressure on big names like Drogba and Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o to singlehandedly carry their teams.
“When they play at Inter (Milan) or Chelsea, there are 15 stars to share the pressure,” he said in Johannesburg.
“In football, one player can’t win the game.”
By contrast, Latin American teams are having a fantastic tournament, Brazil and Argentina shining in particular.
Coaches say the higher standard of their qualifiers may be a factor giving them a collective edge over other regions.
Of seven Latin teams in the tournament, only Honduras are going home.
They drew 0-0 with Switzerland in Friday’s other Group H game, meaning both go home.
Asia is represented in the last 16 by Japan and South Korea, both of whom’s success has sparked wild celebrations at home. In Japan, police had to fish revellers out of rivers.
Some tantalizing matches are in store in the last 16, not least old rivals Germany and England who face off on Sunday.
New British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel plan to take time off from analysing the world’s problems at the G20 summit in Canada for that game.
They may even watch it together. “I will try not to wrestle her to the ground during penalties,” said Cameron.