CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — In two or 10, or even 20 years' time a visitor to South Africa might turn to a football fan and ask: "So, what did that 2010 World Cup do for you?"
The South African, with vuvuzela (remember them?) gripped proudly in one hand, could cite increased investment in the country. He or she could maybe say there are more tourists coming than ever before. And, with a satisfied blast on the vuvuzela point out that South Africa has the best stadiums in Africa. "Look at our Soccer City and our Cape Town Stadium."
No doubt about that. All valid points, and thanks FIFA.
But for now perhaps the most important thing is still lacking. The thing that really makes football followers proud — a winning national team.
Nearly four years ago, South Africa was the center of the football world. Its players bowed out of the World Cup group stage with a bang not a whimper, dancing and singing their way into Free State Stadium on their way to beating former world champion France. A dysfunctional France team, maybe, but South Africa also almost beat Mexico in an exhilarating opening game. No one doubted the hosts belonged at the World Cup.
Now, South Africa is nowhere — not even among the 31 teams that qualified for this year's World Cup in Brazil.
Well, not exactly nowhere. It is on FIFA's radar for an investigation into match-fixing allegations. And it is still in the news at home — for the wrong reasons.
Sports minister Fikile Mbalula last month called the national side "a bunch of losers" and "useless, unbearable individuals" after early elimination on home soil from the lower-level African Nations Championship.
The stark reality for the plastic horn-wielding fans from the big city of Johannesburg down to the shores of Cape Town is that Africa has settled into a football rhythm and South Africa can't keep up, no matter how good its stadiums.
The same five African teams that made the last World Cup — Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria — qualified again. South Africa, with no hosting rights to save it this time, couldn't even win a place in Africa's 10-team final World Cup playoffs, beaten out by Ethiopia, no less.