with Alvin Sallay
The next World Cup will be held in South Africa in 2010. And ever since Africa was awarded the tournament for the first time, they have been clamouring for an extra place. Fifa chief Sepp Blatter has said the teams need to prove they deserve it.
Well, if Africa is to be judged by results, then the five teams - Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo and Tunisia - have not done all that badly and could have strengthened their region's case. Four-time African champions Ghana shocked the Czech Republic 2-0 to carry the hopes of the continent.
Senegal set the standard in 2002 when they beat holders France in a memorable opening game, and then went on to reach the quarter-finals. They failed to qualify this time, as did the more established African nations of Cameroon and Nigeria. So the onus was squarely on this bunch of four first-timers with only Tunisia having previous World Cup experience.
Before the event began, Senegal star El Hadji Diouf said none of the African qualifiers deserved to pack their bags for Germany. It might have been a case of sour grapes, for the Africans have played some of the most exciting football in this tournament.
Didier Drogba and the Elephants from Ivory Coast might be packing their bags for home after unfortunately coming up against two of the most experienced teams in Argentina and the Netherlands, losing 2-1 each time. But they have played super, exciting, one-touch football.
'We gave our best, but I was realistic,' said Drogba after losing to the Dutch. 'We had a very hard group although I think we still deserved to get into the next round.' He is right. If Ivory Coast were in another group, I'm certain they would have. The rest of the African sides have also performed well so far. Angola lost 1-0 to their former colonial masters Portugal before holding on to a creditable 0-0 draw with Mexico. They, too, could advance if unbeaten Portugal defeat Mexico, and they beat Iran convincingly. Togo lost 2-1 to South Korea and face a tough test against the Swiss tonight, and then group favourites France. They have virtually no chance of advancing.
Tunisia, however, have hopes like Ghana and Angola. Having drawn 2-2 with the Saudis, good results against Spain tonight, and then Ukraine could see them through to the last 16. Hopefully all the four debutants will make use of the experience to raise their standards for 2010. Ghana's victory has stirred the imagination like Cameroon during the 1990 World Cup, or Senegal in 2002.
Remember Roger Milla, at 42, the granddad of all players at the World Cup in 1994, dancing on the sidelines after scoring the goal which stunned Diego Maradona's Argentina in the opening match? They went all the way to extra-time in the quarter-finals before England prevailed 3-2.
After watching Cameroon and Senegal perform in those previous World Cups, Pele predicted that one day an African nation would win the major trophy. It won't happen here, but who knows four years from now, when the tournament is played in their backyard.
In 2010, hosts South Africa will automatically grab one of the five places. This is why the Africans want one extra berth, so that five teams can still qualify. It is up to Ghana and Tunisia to press home their continent's case.
Number of the Day: 1978. It was at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina that Tunisia became the first African nation to win a match. They beat Mexico 3-1.