AFRICA’S hopes of more teams at the next World Cup were dealt a huge blow by a largely dismal showing during the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Algeria and Nigeria bowed out in the first knockout round after Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast made first-round exits.
More was expected from a football-obsessed continent that promises much before each World Cup only to deliver comparatively little.
When Roger Milla-inspired Cameroon reached the 1990 quarter-finals, Brazil legend Pele predicted an African winner of the tournament by the close of the 20th century…there was none.
But the best Africa has managed since is last-eight appearances from Senegal in 2002 and Ghana four years ago.
Many African football officials believe the odds are stacked against the continent producing champions because they have only five contenders compared to 13 from Europe.
They argue that Africa and Europe have 54 member nations each of world football governing body FIFA, so why the large difference in the number of World Cup qualifiers?
What they ignore is World Cup results between Africa and Europe and South America, the strongest football continents.
There have been 80 match-ups between Africa and Europe, starting with a 4-2 victory by Hungary over Egypt at the 1934 World Cup and Africa has won just 16 games.
Nigeria did defeat Bosnia-Hercegovina in Brazil, Ghana held Germany in a four-goal thriller and Algeria drew with Russia.
But Cameroon was hammered by Croatia, Ivory Coast succumbed to Greece, Ghana lost to Portugal, Nigeria fell to France and Algeria were beaten by Belgium and Germany.
The statistics against South American sides are more depressing with just three victories from 25 matches.
“We need to have the results to back our case,” admits Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou.
Africa has not enjoyed great success against Asian and CONCACAF (North-Central America) opponents either.
They won four and lost four of 14 games with Asia and won three and lost three of eight matches against CONCACAF.
Critics of greater African representation at the 2018 finals can point to just 26 African victories in 127 World Cup games.
But Africa and Asia do have powerful backers with FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Europe football supremo Michel Platini saying the 32-team World Cup could be expanded.
Why did a five-prong African assault in Brazil peter out so early? Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng says disastrous preparations contributed greatly.
“It was a nightmare from start to finish,” Boateng revealed after being kicked out of camp before the last group match for allegedly swearing at coach Kwesi Appiah.
Boateng said the journey from the Netherlands to the United States took 19 hours, including nine hanging around an airport.
“The flight from Miami to Brazil lasted 12 hours, and our legs ached from sitting in economy class while the Ghana FA president, his wife and children were in business class.
“We had a charter flight in Brazil but my luggage was lost—two days without my football boots was a disaster.”
Boateng said the bonus row, which led to $3 million in cash being airlifted from Ghana to Brazil, was the “smallest problem”.
“The association gets so much money from sponsors and FIFA—it was certainly not used for hotels, flights, preparations and the team.”
Ghana was not the only team hit by bonus disputes.
Cameroon delayed their departure from Yaounde wrangling over money and President Goodluck Jonathan intervened when problems emerged in the Nigerian squad.
The list of 2014 World Cup-related embarrassments for Africa is long, including the suspension of Nigeria after they exited the tournament over alleged government interference.
Reports—since discredited—linked seven Cameroon players to match-fixing against Croatia. Alex Song was red-carded and Benoit Assou-Ekotto tried to head-butt team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo during that match.
Boateng was joined on an early flight home by fellow midfielder Sulley Muntari, who was accused of striking a Ghanaian official.
Coaches Vahid Halilhodzic of Algeria and Stephen Keshi of Nigeria, the most successful from Africa in Brazil, have quit, along with Ivory Coast handler Sabri Lamouchi.
Among the unsuccessful, German Volker Finke wants to continue guiding Cameroon and Appiah signed a pre-World Cup two-year extension..