JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Hopes of the first World Cup in Africa producing the continent’s first winner seem increasingly far-fetched.
By the end of the week, Ghana may be Africa’s sole survivor in the competition, with the five others facing tough — or impossible — routes out of the group phase.
Their disappointing showing is underlined by the Ghanaians collecting more points (4) from their first two matches than host South Africa (1), Algeria (1), the Ivory Coast (1), Cameroon (0) and Nigeria (0) combined.
Far from gloating, however, such supremacy over their African rivals doesn’t sit comfortably with the Ghana players.
“We are praying for the other African countries because it is very, very important for us Africans to make sure that we go further than in the past,” said Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan, who has two goals in two games. “That is our ambition, not (for) Ghana, but the whole of Africa.”
The first 10 days of South Africa 2010 have provided a jolt for the hopes of Africa’s one billion inhabitants.
Four-time African champion Cameroon had been one of Africa’s great hopes. But the Indomitable Lions — featuring Inter Milan’s recent Champions League winner Samuel Eto’o — are already preparing to pack their bags after failing to find their bite in losses to Japan and Denmark.
“It’s a nightmare, I had high expectations for the World Cup,” said defender Aurelien Chedjou after the team discovered it wouldn’t be progressing here.
South Africa is still clinging on — barely.
Never in the tournament’s 80-year history has the host team failed to reach the knockout round, and Bafana Bafana’s elimination would test the Rainbow Nation’s World Cup enthusiasm.
“They might struggle to fill the big stadiums and there will be less passion,” Marcel Desailly, a World Cup winner with France in 1998, wrote in South Africa’s Times newspaper. “But the people in the streets will still be curious.”
An early exit can only be avoided by registering a big win over a France side beset by infighting, while hoping for a winner between Mexico and Uruguay in the other Group A finale on Tuesday.
But the recriminations have already begun about Bafana Bafana’s poor showing, with radio phone-ins berating them for letting the country down by claiming just one point against Mexico and losing to Uruguay.
“Let us not lose sight of the fact that we have already emerged triumphant by successfully hosting the world’s most prestigious soccer tournament,” said Jackson Mthembu, a spokesman for the ruling African National Congress.
The anger is running far deeper in Nigeria following losses to Argentina and Greece. More than a 1,000 death threats have been made against midfielder Sani Kaita following his sending off against Greece, but Nigeria can still advance by beating South Korea if Argentina conquers Greece.
“I’ve never experienced that before, that you have two losses and yet still have a chance to go through,” Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback said. “Of course that has helped us a lot to keep focused on what we are doing. So now we are really looking forward to the game and we can really show how good the Super Eagles are.”
Algeria was never expected to advance from a group featuring England, the United States and Slovenia. What the team has done is disrupt the three-horse race by holding England to a 0-0 draw on Friday to earn its only point.
The Desert Foxes can still advance by beating Confederation Cup finalist U.S. and hoping Slovenia doesn’t lose to England in Wednesday’s other match.
The Ivory Coast — packed with players from Europe’s top leagues — had the misfortune of landing in the “Group of Death.”
Despite drawing with Portugal, losing to Brazil left them in need of a convincing victory over minnow North Korea on Friday and a Brazil triumph over Portugal.
Midfielder Didier Zokora is feeling the pressure to deliver for his homeland — and the continent as a whole.
“For us as Africans, it’s extremely important that we give a good image of the continent,” Zokora said. “When Ghana beat Serbia, I was so happy because it’s not only about Cote d’Ivoire, it’s also about the other African countries at the World Cup.”
Ghana, though, is the only one emerging as a force here, having been the only African nation to advance to the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup. Despite only drawing with 10-man Australia on Saturday, a victory over Serbia left the Black Stars just needing to avoid losing to Germany to advance.
The organizers will be hoping that transpires.
“Of course this is an African World Cup, we’d love to see African teams going to the second round,” said local World Cup organizing committee official Rich Mkhondo. “But that’s football.”