Stars fail to shine at World Cup
2010 World Cup: Cape Town
This World Cup was supposed to provide the stage for the greatest players on earth to shine.
But following Argentina's stunning 4-0 defeat by Germany on Saturday, the big five of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Kaka and Didier Drogba have all returned home from South Africa earlier than expected.
Between them, just two managed to get on the scoresheet - Drogba and Ronaldo. All showed flashes of brilliance but many observers have been left scratching their heads as to why they were unable to deliver in the finals.
As Argentina coach Diego Maradona contemplated his own future this weekend, one of the greatest players ever to grace the World Cup was asked to reflect on why it was that stars like Messi, Rooney and Ronaldo had failed to dazzle.
"It's a very different type of game these days," answered a shell-shocked Maradona. "We were more selfish as players. I wanted to do everything in the team.
"But Rooney and Messi will see by themselves that when the team needs them they will be there to play for the team."
While his theory may carry some weight, another consideration may be the burden of expectation which falls on these players' shoulders.
The German coach Joachim Loew talks of the "lightness" of youth which courses through his team and you see it on the faces of Thomas Mueller and Mesut Ozil when they play - they so clearly enjoy it.
And one of the observations made about England's disastrous World Cup here was that the team played with fear under manager Fabio Capello. If the Italian has learned one lesson from his humbling experience of the last four weeks it must surely be the need to bring in younger players.
Germany's ruthless rewriting of the Maradona and Messi fairytale has not only robbed this World Cup of a great story, it has left the game wondering whether the 1986 World Cup-winner will quit after two years in charge of Argentina.
"I may leave tomorrow but I want these boys to go on," said Maradona, who added that the 4-0 defeat was the toughest moment in his life, which for a man who spent six days in a critical condition with heart and lung problems six years ago, is some statement.
But this tournament has shown time and again that it has no respect for reputations. If Maradona moves another character will emerge to fill the gap.
And while many of the names lighting up the 2010 finals may not be giants of the game, they are proof of the competition's ever-evolving ability to surprise and delight.