World Cup 2010: Absentees look to 2014 qualification
Egypt are one of many teams hoping to avoid more disappointment in 2014
By Stephen Fottrell
With post-mortems already well under way in many of the countries that suffered disappointment in South Africa, thoughts have already turned to Brazil 2014, not least in the nations who failed to qualify this time.
There were many notable absentees in South Africa, none more so than seven-time African champions Egypt, who stuttered badly at the final qualifying hurdle and missed out on the first World Cup to be staged on African soil.
The Pharaohs have consistently failed to qualify for the finals since their last appearance in 1990 but were expected to break that cycle this year given their dominance of the African continental scene, winning the last three Africa Cup of Nations titles.
Sadly, a poor performance in a fiery play-off against bitter rivals Algeria cost them dear.
What rubbed salt into the wounds was witnessing the Algerians perform so badly in South Africa.
"Egyptian disappointment turned to bitterness and grief after the World Cup started," says Egyptian sports journalist Inas Mazhar.
"Everyone - the fans, the coaches, the players - believed that Egypt's level of performance would have been much higher than the participating teams, especially the African teams.
"Egyptians believe that they could have given a better image of African football and I think they will live with this bitterness for a long time. They feel they could have progressed to the quarter-finals or even the semis."
There have been no knee-jerk reactions from the Egyptian Football Association, that has stuck with coach Hassan Shehata, at least until 2012.
What will change is the playing personnel, with a good number of Egypt's starting XI on the wrong side of the 30.
"Youth is the answer," says Mazhar, who highlighted the achievements of Ghana, who reached the last eight with one of the youngest squads in the tournament. "But it is going to be difficult because not many players from Egypt's Under-20 team have been brought into the national team. It is going to be a hard job to find new young players."
Youth is also an issue for supporters of Russia, who saw their team suffer the biggest upset of the European qualifying group when losing to Slovenia in a play-off for the finals.
The Russians had all the ingredients for a successful World Cup run, with Guus Hiddink as coach and boasting a talented, if ageing, squad that had reached the European Championship semi-finals in 2008.
But after finishing runners-up to Germany in their qualifying group, they failed against the Slovenians and Hiddink departed soon afterwards.
Many among the country's footballing fraternity felt not only that the team should have won that tie comfortably but that it should never have had to rely on a play-off at all.
Valery Nepomnyashchy, coach of Russian Premier League side FC Tom Tomsk and the man who led Cameroon to the World Cup quarter-finals in 1990, is one of them.
"I don't agree with those people who say that the loss to Slovenia prevented the Russian team from going to South Africa," he said. "The key fight was with the Germans."
Russia were beaten 2-1 in Dortmund before losing 1-0 at home in the penultimate round of group games, Miroslav Klose's 35th-minute strike proving decisive in Moscow.
They eventually finished four points adrift of the group winners - and Nepomnyashchy is full of praise for the way Germany has profited from its investment in youth.
"Germany are on their way up because they adopted a programme of developing young players and are now reaping the benefits," he said.
"They were one of the youngest teams in the championship and a strong contender for the trophy."
Germany eventually had to settle for third place in South Africa but their policy of blooding promising younger players, like Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller, may well become a blueprint of success for others, notably France, Italy and England.
But what about China? Their repeated absence from the finals is much harder to identify.
China have only appeared at one World Cup, in Japan and South Korea in 2002, which is a poor return for the world's most populated country.
So who or what is to blame?
"It is not as simple as saying that certain people should be responsible," said Chinese sports commentator Wang Dazhao. "It is an issue of awareness and understanding of the entire society.
"The main problem is that the authorities and the people have an erroneous understanding of sport, which is merely regarded as a tool to fight for the glory of the country.
"Sport has gradually lost its fundamental function in China and is no longer for enjoyment.
"Without the basic interest in the Chinese national team and their pursuit to qualify for the finals, the further away they will remain because there is barely any [support] base to build on."
The Chinese also suffer from being drawn in an Asian pool with only four automatic qualifying berths, which were secured by Japan, South Korea, North Korea and Australia this time round.
"The reality is that the better the other Asian teams are, the harder it is for China to qualify," said Wang.
"But the Chinese haven't yet displayed their unique characteristics. They need to show more swift movement, agility and cleverness on the pitch."
An increasing awareness in football among a base of more than a billion people should also give the Chinese a fighting chance of making it to Brazil.
Among the other notable absentees at this World Cup were several eastern European countries, who were vying for one of 13 places at the finals.
Poland and Ukraine will perhaps acknowledge there is work to be done on the field as they prepare to co-host the European Championship in 2012 after missing out on World Cup qualification this time.
They did, however, see neighbours Slovakia make it to the second round on their World Cup debut after a famous win against 2006 champions Italy in the group matches - a victory worthy enough to inspire all future qualifiers.
Additional reporting and contributions from BBCRussia.com and BBCChinese.com.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.