JOHANNESBURG -- The World Cup was not just a coming-out party for Africa as a continent, but a chance for African soccer to showcase its beauty on the global stage.
As we head into the final weekend of the World Cup, one thing is blatantly clear: Mother Africa has shown it is ready to compete for the world's attention. When it comes to African soccer, however, it's still not as certain.
Instead of providing a platform to showcase the strengths of African teams, the World Cup exposed the opposite.
Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast and host South Africa were all eliminated in the group stage, with Ghana emerging as the continent's only hope for a title by advancing to the knockout rounds.
Ghana was an encouraging breakthrough for Africa, but the Black Stars eventually lost a thrilling match to Uruguay in the quarterfinals -- so far, the best game of the World Cup. But even though Ghana successfully united Africa, its failure to advance meant another World Cup in which an African team couldn't make it beyond the quarterfinals.
There are a number of reasons Africa hasn't consistently competed with the world's best: the strong lure of Europe for the best African players, the inability to nurture the continent's raw, talented players, and ill-prepared national teams that have been clumsily thrown together.
Africa's World Cup performance seems baffling since you don't have to be in Africa very long to determine that soccer is the heartbeat of the continent. The game is so beloved that kids play it barefoot -- on dirty fields, in communities without suitable plumbing and in every corner of this immense land.
There is no question Africa has the talent, but once that talent matures, it usually heads to Europe to make the kind of money that isn't available in Africa. Many of the African clubs can't afford to pay the best players, and even if they were as well-funded as the South African Premier League, they still battle the perception that playing for a European team is more prestigious.
It's a win-lose situation for Africa. While Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto'o have become African heroes as a result of their European success, their accomplishments also are another example of homegrown talent going elsewhere and Africa not reaping the rewards.
"At the Africa Cup in 1996, we as players would make $25 a day and the officials were making $300 a day," said George Weah, a Liberian-born footballer who was voted the African Player of the Century. "That's injustice. How can you promote the players and the game? I think the players should be well-paid and encouraged. I think we have the talent and I think we have the desire, but we have to be promoted by our people. If we don't encourage players, this will be the setbacks and we'll be seeing that every day."
Weah believes the key to improving African soccer begins with coaching. It must be noted that none of the African teams in this World Cup were coached by a black African, even though the game is dominated by black Africans and played on a continent where black Africans are the overwhelming majority.
While Weah didn't indicate that the problem was racial, he admitted African soccer officials are guilty of believing that European coaches are better trained and have more credibility than African coaches -- even though the results don't necessarily support that assertion. They blindly throw money at European coaches, who are not familiar enough with the continent and its cultural and tribal differences. The teams often lack chemistry and the mistakes are compounded by firing the coaches. South Africa's national team, for example, has had 15 different coaches in 18 years.
"The same confidence that we give the European coaches, we have a lot of African coaches who can make our team better," said Weah, who was selected as the player of the year in Europe in 1995. "We have a lot of ex-players who have the knowledge. If you look at the statistics today, you will see that African coaches that [helped] coach the team brought more locals than the European coaches. Based on their performances in the past, I think you can still have confidence in African coaches. Give them the basic necessities and the same facilities you give the European coaches. They have not been given the confidence. They have not been promoted. They are not being encouraged."
We know a little something about that in America, where blacks have struggled to secure head-coaching positions in college football and break into the executive and ownership ranks in our most popular and profitable sports.
Changes are under way in Africa, with the South African Football Association reportedly expected to replace Brazilian coach Carlos Parreira with assistant Pitso Mosimane, a black South African.
But the same care and investment that went into presenting Africa as a changed continent must also be put into the development of African soccer, which has not flourished properly despite being on such fertile ground.
Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.