A frustrating end to a promising Olympics for Africa's footballers

With all four of Africa's Olympic competitors eliminated from the men and women's football events, ESPN runs the rule over the quartet and reviews their performances in Japan.

Ivory Coast

How did they do? Took five points from a group containing Brazil and Germany, drawing with both and eliminating the latter to progress.

They were minutes away from eliminating Spain, before capitulating 5-2 in extra time after conceding a 93rd-minute equaliser.

Did they meet expectations? Draws with Brazil and Germany -- both among the top five tournament favourites -- were excellent results for the Petits Elephants, and their showing against Spain also surpassed expectations.

Star performer: Franck Kessie put his ongoing contractual impasse with AC Milan behind him to deliver a series of emphatic displays, often compensating for the defensive uncertainty behind him.

San Pedro goalkeeper Eliezer Ira Tape had a few uncertain moments -- and did concede five against Spain -- but looks to have a bright future, while Max-Alain Gradel rolled back the years and led by example.

Disappointment: Defensive lapses against Spain -- notably from Manchester United's Eric Bailly, who should really have known better.

After managing contests effectively and stymieing Brazil and Germany, despite having players sent off against the former, their composure deserted them against La Roja.

Key moment: The inability to deal with a floated cross in the third minute of stoppage time against Spain was utterly disastrous.

Eboue Kouassi sent his initial defensive header directly up in the air, missed the ball -- under no pressure, mind -- as it dropped, and then watched on as Bailly was outmuscled by Rafa Mir who duly finished from close range to take the tie to extra time.

The Elephants, as they have done so often in the past, had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Where to next? Kessie will likely sign a new deal at Milan, while Bailly will likely have to compete with another new centre-back -- Raphael Varane -- as he looks to rebuild his Manchester United career.

The likes of Wilfried Singo, Christian Kouame and even Kouassi will now look to establish themselves with the senior side.

What did they say? "Tokyo 2020 has revealed some [Ivorian] talents, but Tokyo 2020 has also revealed some failings - we don't need to go in depth on them, we already know what they are." - Ex-Ivory Coast goalkeeper Copa Barry, touching on the Elephants' disastrous defensive display.

South Africa

How did they do? Lost their opening two matches against Japan and France, but still had a slight chance of progression heading into their final fixture against Mexico. Here, they were defeated comprehensively to fall at the first hurdle.

It could have been a different story for Amaglug-glug had the camp not been hit by positive coronavirus cases on the eve of the tournament; this led to absentees, quarantines, and undoubtedly affected their preparation.

Did they meet expectations? First Round elimination was par for the course, although South Africa may regret not demonstrating the same adventure they showcased in their 4-3 defeat by France in their limp opening loss against Japan.

Star performer: Honourable mentions go to Evidence Makgopa, Kobamelo Kodisang and Luke Fleurs, but Teboho Mokoena gets the nod here for his marvellous midfield displays. Surely a move beyond the PSL beckons for the SuperSport United anchorman.

Disappointment: The 1-0 defeat by Japan was not a scoreline that truly represented the Blue Samurai's dominance, as South Africa lacked attacking coherence and proved utterly toothless on the day.

How might things have gone had their preparation been uninterrupted, allowing David Notoane to show a little more ambition in the opener?

Key moment: Three times South Africa led against France before a late capitulation, and if they'd held their nerve during the latter stages, a famous victory could have been on the cards. It would have transformed the complexion of their tournament.

The 86th-minute penalty awarded to France was an almighty stroke of bad luck as keeper Ronwen Williams clipped Arnaud Nordin, and it could have been a different story if Luther Singh had converted his 40th-minute spotkick.

Where to next? South Africa's Vision 2022 has been disrupted by COVID-19, although a fundamental rebuilding of the country's football is still taking place, and many members of this squad will be critical components of the side that attempts to bounce back from missing out on the AFCON under Hugo Broos.

What did they say? "We have to be accountable for the results that we faced here in Tokyo. Hopefully the boys will graduate and take this experience to Bafana Bafana as we strive to make a better team in the future." - Notoane.


How did they do? Eliminated in the quarterfinals by Brazil, having navigated a tricky group. Egypt remained resolute to dispatch Australia in their final group game -- eliminating Argentina on goal difference in the process -- but the match against the Selecao proved one game too far.

Did they meet expectations? Similar story to the Ivory Coast; they overachieved in progressing -- although not as impressively as the Elephants -- but didn't truly give the best account of themselves in the quarters.

Star performer: Several to choose from: Akram Tawfik was a dynamo during the group, making more tackles than any other player in the tournament, sitting second in the interception charts and in the top five for dribbles completed.

Ramadan Sobhi excelled down Egypt's left in their memorable victory over Australia, Ahmed Hegazy's experience was brought to bear in the centre of the defence, while Mohamed El Shenawy was influential in the clean-sheet displays against Spain and the Olyroos, before a heroic last stand against Brazil.

Disappointment: What could Egypt have achieved against Brazil in their decisive knockout elimination had Mohamed Salah been present?

The Liverpool superstar was denied participation in the tournament by his club -- despite his own desire to compete for the gold -- and his presence on the opposite flank to Sobhi could have taken the Pharaohs onto the podium.

Key moment: The rugged 0-0 draw against Spain in their opening fixture.

El Shenawy, Hegazy and Tawfik in particular were outstanding as the European heavyweights -- with six players taken from their 2020 European Championships squad -- were kept at bay.

It gave the Pharaohs belief they could progress, ultimately gave them a decisive point, and set the tone for an encouraging tournament.

Where to next? Elimination means the end of a cycle for Shawky Gharib's 2019 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations winners, although expect several members of this squad to be part of the senior Egypt team who attempt to rebuild the heavyweights' reputation at the senior AFCON next year.

What did they say? "Your career with the Olympic team has ended, but don't lose contact with your friends. If anything happened between you during the match, just forget about it and look to the future. You will now become members of the senior team and I wish you success." - Coach Gharib to his young charges.


How did they do? Obliterated by Netherlands 10-3 in their opener, they rallied to hold China -- somewhat fortuitously -- during a 4-4 rollercoaster in their second game, before ultimately falling 1-0 to Brazil in their final fixture.

Did they meet expectations? Finishing third in the group, ahead of China, is an outstanding achievement considering Zambia headed into the tournament -- their first outside of Africa -- ranked 104th in the world, whereas China are 15th.

Star performer: Barba Banda, who was Africa's outstanding performer across both the men's and women's competitions.

She netted consecutive hat-tricks -- the first woman to achieve such a feat at the Games -- and equalled Canadian Christine Sinclair's record for most goals scored in a single edition of the tournament (six), although this achievement was later surpassed by the Netherlands' Vivianne Miedema.

While she drew a blank in the Copper Queens' final fixture against Brazil, she has already become Africa's all-time top women's scorer in the Games.

"I'm aiming to become the best footballer in the world," the reigning Chinese Super League top scorer told journalists after the Netherlands defeat.

Disappointment: Zambia's wide-eyed enthusiasm soon turned into deer-in-the-headlines terror as they conceded 10 against the European champions in their opener.

Ignominiously, it's the record for the most goals conceded by a single team in the history of women's football at the Olympics, and it's an 'accolade' that's unlikely to be broken any time soon.

Key moment: Hazel Nali's last-minute save to deny Wang Shuang her fifth goal and secure a point for Zambia in their 4-4 draw with China. It was a result that felt like a victory for the Shepolopolo, and kept them alive heading into their final fixture against Brazil.

For 23-year-old Nali, it was personal redemption after she had been widely pilloried for her performance against the Dutch, and her emotional celebration said it all.

Where to next? Zambia were greeted with a customised cake upon their return to Lusaka, and will now aim to build on their Olympics by qualifying for next year's African Women's Cup of Nations in Morocco. Their experience in Japan should stand them in good stead.

What did they say? "You are world class yourselves, well done. You have represented your country and continent well, and we are proud of you." - Zambia President Edgar Lungu