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Jul 1, 2014

Africa departs Brazil in disappointment

Cameroon officials will investigate claims from a German magazine that seven players were involved in match-fixing at the World Cup.

Africa's World Cup is over. It did not end as the continent would have liked, without the results it had hoped for and with no new ground broken. In fact, old ground wasn't even covered as none of the five African teams that entered the tournament will feature in the quarterfinals.

Given the huge impact made on home soil in 2010, underperformance was the standout failing of the African countries at this World Cup. Each was slow out of the starting blocks, with only one team winning its opening match -- Ivory Coast forced to come from behind in a 2-1 victory against Japan. They also showed a laziness in the final minutes -- Greece's injury-time winner against Ivory Coast; Ghana's capitulation in the 86th minute to the U.S. -- that denied them progress.

Indeed, the African efforts smacked of lack of preparation or team unity, and that's before you take into account the dysfunctional FAs that are running the game into the ground.

Cameroon were the first to depart in the group stages and the team with the most problems in Brazil. They were the outfit that appeared the most disjointed, as underlined by the head-butting incident in their match against Croatia, but now there is something more sinister hovering over them. Seven players will be investigated for match-fixing in that same game.

The Indomitable Lions could easily have earned the title of "embarrassment of the World Cup" had Ghana not got themselves into a tangle ahead of their final group match. The players were on the verge of staging a protest because they had not been paid their appearance fees and had to have the cash chartered to them.

While that painted a picture of greed, the axing of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari from the squad hours before kickoff against Portugal was the image of chaos. In the aftermath, Boateng lashed out at the FA, calling the preparations "amateurish," revealing how administrators flew business class while the players had to travel in economy and calling the accommodations inadequate.

He may never pull on his national team shirt again, but the causes of Boateng's outburst will not go away quietly. Ghana will be searching for answers for their fall from grace after they reached the quarterfinals in South Africa and appeared on an upward curve.

So will Ivory Coast, whose questions are different but no less serious. Their golden generation had their last chance to impress on a global stage and could not handle it. It is unlikely Didier Drogba or the Toure brothers will appear in another World Cup, and the Ivorians will have to unearth new heroes. For now, they are still smarting after the late penalty given to Greece that denied them a place in the knockouts.

Nigeria would have been pleased to get out of the group stage for the first time since 1998, but they did not make it easy for themselves. They were unconvincing against Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina, even though the latter was a match they won. Although they improved as the tournament progressed and had their best showing against France in the round of 16, they still lacked the final touch and paid for it.

Before Nigeria even had time for a postmortem, the remains of their tournament had begun to rot. Coach Stephen Keshi stepped down in the immediate aftermath -- though he did the same shortly after they won the African Nations Cup and was persuaded to stay on -- and has been linked with the South Africa job.

Keshi wasn't the only casualty. Joseph Yobo, who earned his 100th cap for Nigeria in the competition, announced his retirement from the international game. Instead of leaving a memory as one of their greatest servants, his final act was to score an own goal to seal their knockout fate.

Only Algeria can manage a small smile after they defied expectations and emerged out of Group H above South Korea and Russia. Les Fennecs were a dynamic, determined group that were vastly improved from the team of four years ago. Their quartet of goals against South Korea was the most an African team has managed in a World Cup game, and their fight in an extra-time defeat to old foe Germany was one of the brightest of the tournament.

The other African teams can say something to explain their troubles. Cameroon can claim they just didn't know one another well enough; Ghana just didn't believe in coach Kwesi Appiah; Ivory Coast were hurt by late mistakes; Nigeria tried hard enough but just had no more to give.

When the dust settles, fans and players alike will agree that Africa was just not good enough in the end. It's a truth that hurts but a truth nonetheless, and things will have to improve in four years' time.

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