RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — It looked like the same sad old story at the World Cup for Africa, the continent which still hasn't quite done it on the big stage.
Africa has never had a semifinalist — never mind a real contender for the title — and initially appeared out of its depth again at the start in Brazil.
Cameroon was terrible in the first round of matches, African champion Nigeria couldn't even beat Iran and Ghana lost to the United States. After some early promise, Algeria was overrun by Belgium, playing up to the football stereotype that African teams can be exciting but also careless and naive.
Even Ivory Coast, with world-class talent like Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and Gervinho, couldn't put it together and initially struggled against Japan.
Pele's prediction years ago that, with a football obsession rivaling even Brazil's, Africa would emerge as the game's new force still appeared way off. It probably still is.
But with the exception of Cameroon, the Africans have shown grit and skill to fight back. Now there's a chance that four of their five teams will make the second round, something that has never happened before. Never has more than one African team advanced past the group stage.
Four years after hosting the World Cup, African players are ready to start having more of an impact on the tournament.
"It's something awesome for Africa," Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama said after his country beat Bosnia-Herzegovina to get back on track in Brazil. "Africa needed that win, something to boost the confidence back home."
Three of the countries — Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Algeria — are second in their groups heading to the final games and have good chances of qualifying, while Ghana has an outside shot. After a forgettable first round, Nigeria's win, Ghana's fighting 2-2 draw with Germany and Algeria's all-out attacking show in a 4-2 victory over South Korea has revived the Africans.
"Ghana really threw everything they had at us," Germany coach Joachim Loew said, praising the West Africans for their rapid counterattacks and underlining how African teams — often big, strong and fast — are capable of upsetting the rhythm of the best lineups in the world.
Just ask Argentina's World Cup holders, who lost to Cameroon in 1990. Or France's defending champions in 2002, beaten by Senegal.
Now if only for some consistency. If there's one thing African teams have struggled with, it's being able to build on their small successes at the World Cup.
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