JOHANNESBURG - Africa's first World Cup, which ended on Sunday with Spain winning the trophy, closed as a triumph for the continent but not for the game which fizzled but failed to ignite at the 31-day tournament.
Superb modern stadiums, huge enthusiasm from the crowds and the total demise of the doom-mongers' dire predictions of a tournament wrecked by inefficient organisation and violent crime put a feather in the cap of Africa in general and of South Africa in particular.
But, unfortunately for the three million who turned up at the stadiums and the billions who watched on television, the tournament never really took off where it mattered - on the pitch.
A dearth of goals, the basic fodder on which fans feed, some bitterly cold weather at the first winter World Cup in 32 years, a lack of truly memorable encounters and a shortage of star performers all contributed to a World Cup which left more than a tinge of disappointment.
The final between Spain and Netherlands somehow compounded the frustration for fans. A solitary goal four minutes from the end of extra time after a physical battle with 13 yellow cards and one red was hardly the stuff of dreams.
The goal shortage was the worst aspect. The tournament started with a miserly 28 goals in the first 17 games and never really recovered, finishing with 145 in 64, an average of 2.27 per game, the second worst ever after 2.21 in Italy in 1990.
The unpredictable flight of the Jabulani ball and its unhelpful tendency to soar high into the air when struck with any kind of power may have been one factor.
The fear factor was certainly another. In the early matches, teams seemed more anxious to secure their defensive lines than to breach their opponents' and draws were prevalent - six in the first 13 games.
Then there was the startling failure of the sport's big names to impose themselves at what should have been their showpiece event.
Who would ever have dreamt that Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Fernando Torres and Kaka would fail to score a single goal between them? Or that Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo would do no better than one each?
Tiredness at the end of a long season? The weight of huge expectations? Too little time to recuperate from injuries?
In the end it was just a mystery. Not so much a whodunnit, more of a who didn't do it.
The winter weather was supposed to help the excitement. Players' energy would not be sapped by the summer sun, so the theory ran, and they would inject more pace and performance into the game.
Well, so much for that theory.
It was not just the big players who disappointed but the big teams. Italy and France came as reigning world champions and runners-up and made their exits in the group stage without winning a game between them.
England did little better, squeezing out of probably the weakest group with just a single victory - a modest 1-0 win over Slovenia - and then getting thrashed 4-1 by the Germans.
The South Americans flattered in the early games, especially Argentina and Brazil. But both fell apart in the quarter-finals when their title credentials came under serious scrutiny for the first time.
Diego Maradona's touchline theatrics looked wooden as Germany ridiculed his Argentina team with a 4-0 win and Brazil could not hold on to a 1-0 halftime lead against Netherlands, going down 2-1 and losing Felipe Melo to a red card in 20 minutes of mayhem.
Even African teams disappointed. With six teams in the 32 for the first time, they had some genuine hopes but five were eliminated in the group stage, including South Africa, the first host team to fail to reach the knockout rounds.
Ghana did progress to the quarter-finals but were denied Africa's first ever semi-final appearance by Luis Suarez's last-minute handball on the goal line and ended up going out to Uruguay in a penalty shootout.
Spain's stylish sophisticates provided many of the good moments, along with Germany and Netherlands, but they ended up winning the title by scoring a paltry eight goals in seven games, the lowest ever by a World Cup winning side.
Despite winning their first World Cup and the first by a European team outside their own continent, at no point did Spain really hit the sublime heights they did when taking the European title two years earlier.
Then there was the ubiquitous vuvuzela, perhaps the worst idea ever to hit a World Cup. The monotonous and constant single-toned blast from the plastic trumpets drowned out the traditionally colourful chants and cheers of the visiting fans.
Though maybe that was an appropriate backdrop for the strange bleakness of the football on view.comments