PRETORIA - His image adorns promotional posters for this World Cup and he has symbolised the quality of emerging African football but a sad Samuel Eto'o and his twice-beaten Cameroon are heading home early.
African football's most experienced challengers, playing in their sixth World Cup, exited the tournament with a second loss, 2-1 to Denmark, a result which is a harsh reminder that the host continent still has some ground to make up in the global game.
Their third and final game against the Netherlands, which could have been a glorious clash between one of Europe's most classy sides and the Indomitable Lions, will now be a meaningless game with the Dutch already through.
Cameroon played some entertaining and attractive football, at times a joy to watch, but apart from Eto'o's 10th minute opener, they lacked the killer touch in the penalty area while Denmark certainly made the most of their chances.
Eto'o also hit the post with a well-struck left-foot effort and by the end of the game he was almost single handedly trying to break down a very solid Danish defence.
It was not quite a super-heroic solo effort from the three-times African Footballer of the Year, because he was certainly well supported in attack by Achille Emana, whose absence from the opening defeat to Japan now looks inexplicable.
Behind him Alexandre Song and Geremi were also back in the team, following requests from senior players, bringing some necessary solidity to the midfield.
There was not a lot wrong with the defence either, marshaled by Sebastien Bassong - certainly the dated, old stereotype about 'naïve African defending' cannot explain Cameroon's fate.
If anything was missing from the display on Saturday it was the ability that successful European and South American teams have to take control of a game for spells, slowing down the pace, keeping possession while retaining energy.
Cameroon's talented players love to have the ball at their feet and relish the chance to go forward at every opportunity but there are times when 'game management' requires more modest, patient and efficient approaches.
Nevertheless Cameroon still had 23 shots on goal, eight of them on target but only found the net once.
Cameroon's French coach Paul Le Guen had bowed to player power with his selection and his team responded with a sparkling start to the game but they were up against a team that might yet prove to be one of the most under-rated here.
Morten Olsen's side now face a winner-takes-all clash with Japan in the final game of Group E and if they perform with the confidence, organisation and sharpness that they displayed on a crisp evening at Loftus Versfeld, they should make it to the last 16.
Denmark do not have a player with the individual quality of Eto'o but they are a reminder of the enduring value of team-work, familiarity, movement and good passing on the ground.
In Dennis Rommedahl, who created the equaliser for Nicklas Bendtner and then produced some individual brilliance for the 61st minute winner, they have a winger of vintage style but modern adaptability.
Rommedahl showed he is capable of hugging the touchline and beating his man with a drop of the shoulder and a burst of pace but is also willing to make the sacrifices the contemporary game demands - tracking back, tucking inside and grafting.
It was Eto'o though who Africans, and their many supporters across the world, had hoped to see celebrating goals for a few weeks more but there is to be no repeat of Cameroon's run to the quarter-finals 20 years ago.
If Africa were to make a great leap forward at this World Cup, Ghana should have been beating Australia, Nigeria should have bettered Greece and Cameroon needed to win against the Danes.
It didn't happen and it now seems very likely that the Africa that will be remembered from this World Cup will be a friendly host rather than a formidable football force.comments