Analysing Africa's World Cup contenders
Egypt coach Hassan Shehata may find he's exceptionally popular over the next few months - not so much because he'll be permanently swimming in a sea of congratulations, more because the world's leading coaches may want to pick his brain.
For the wily 60-year-old beat no less than four - Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria and Ghana - of Africa's six World Cup finalists en route to winning January's Nations Cup in Angola. And Nigeria, who have since sacked coach Shaibu Amodu, are pursuing the 'if you can't beat them, join them' route, with Shehata now wanted for one of football's hottest jobs. Though it does appear that approach has been blocked by the Egypt Football Association.
Given Amodu's dismissal and Nigeria's unconvincing displays, we probably learnt less about the Super Eagles than any of the five World Cup finalists. Well-beaten by Egypt, lucky against Benin, promising against Mozambique yet poor against Zambia and profligate against Ghana, Nigeria's Nations Cup display was nowhere near capacity.
Nigeria finished third at the Africa Cup of Nations but still let their coach go
The Super Eagles tend to build in first gear but they surely need a far higher tempo if they are to fly.
While goalscoring was sometimes a problem, Yakubu and Obafemi Martins often misfiring, the real concern is the lack of a playmaker - with the midfield stacked with defensive players (John Obi Mikel, Dickson Etuhu, Sani Kaita, Yussuf Ayila), leaving a heavy burden on Osaze Odemwingie, Nigeria's best outfield player in Angola, to provide the flair.
As Zambia's fine teamwork so eloquently pointed out in the quarter-final, when they ran Nigeria incredibly close before losing on penalties, the Super Eagles are more a bunch of individuals than a team - an uphill task for the new man, especially with just three months to prepare for Group B rivals Argentina, South Korea and Greece.
Critics have long been saying this about Nigeria but it's not an accusation often levelled at Ivory Coast.
Like their West African brothers, the lack of a midfield creator was also obvious, for while Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora form a dynamic destructive duo, they are not known for their link-up play or game-breaking vision. This role has often fallen to Abdulkader Keita and Bakary Kone, but neither saw much action in Angola, and Gervinho, 22, couldn't deliver upon the enormous expectations upon his young shoulders.
Yet however problematic the creativity, it's nothing compared to the defensive shambles displayed in the quarter-final defeat to Algeria. For the Ivorian defence and midfield lost all shape - a point defender Madjid Bougherra exquisitely emphasised when profiting from appalling marking to score Algeria's crucial 92nd-minute equaliser.
"Great teams do not let a 2-1 lead slip with just a few minutes left," said Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic. "We came with great hopes and as is always the case, Ivory Coast has failed to deliver. It is not a physical problem, it is a mental one."
Was it mental - or was it the nine-day break between matches caused as a result of Togo's Group B withdrawal? Critics will target the former, especially since the Elephants have choked before: losing the 2006 Nations Cup final (to Egypt), the 2008 semi-final against the same opposition - before succumbing to Algeria this time.
It seems the Ivorians struggle with well-organised opposition, a regular trait amongst North African sides, yet their Group G opponents - North Korea, Portugal and Brazil - will all possess this quality. Equally worrying is that some fans are losing faith in Didier Drogba, whose under-par performances in Angola angered many Ivorians.
I'm unclear whether Cameroonians feel the same about Samuel Eto'o but he was not at his best in Angola. Coach Paul Le Guen deployed him behind the front two in the quarter-final defeat to Egypt. With Eto'o's predatory instincts, why would you play him anywhere but as an out-and-out striker? Especially when the impressive Achille Emana can make things happen from that deeper-lying role.
There were further surprises as much was expected of midfield duo Stephane Mbia and Jean Makoun.
But Mbia was given just 45 minutes while Makoun was dropped for the big one against Egypt. In their place came Enoh Eyong and George Mandjeck, 21, who impressed against the Pharaohs.
"I made the choice of regeneration to give this team new impetus," Le Guen explained. "The Egypt match showed I was justified in doing this."
At long last, the defence was also changing, with Rigobert Song finally dropped from the starting line-up as the new breed of Nicolas N'Koulou and Aurelian Chedjou took the central reins.
But Cameroon often conceded early goals and Egypt exposed failings in goalkeeper Carlos Kameni, so often a rock but not against Ahmed Hassan.
Ghana impressed in Angola despite a number of setbacks
More positively, all of the Indomitable Lions' 19 outfield players tasted action in Angola and being at altitude in Lubango, which lies at 1750 metres, will stand them in good stead for Group E matches against Japan in Bloemfontein (1400m) and Denmark in Pretoria (1275m) - with only the final match against Holland being at sea level.
But the team that gained most from Angola were Ghana. Deprived of six regular starters, including an entire midfield and two defensive stalwarts, Ghana's youngsters made light of the troubles as they shone in a sink-or-swim situation - which will help the Black Stars when tackling a tough-looking Group D (Germany, Australia and Serbia).
Ghana's mentality has been questioned before but not this time as Kojo Asamoah, Samuel Inkoom, Agyemang Badu and Opoku Agyemang showed great fortitude in high-pressure matches and an incredibly bright future for Ghanaian football.
Built upon last year's under-20 World Cup winners, six of the team that started the final against Egypt were 22 or under but they won't just walk into the World Cup team, especially now that Milovan Rajevac has buried his differences with Sulley Muntari.
"For the World Cup, you need players with experience and we can find that in John Mensah, John Pantsil, (Laryea) Kingston, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari. There are others too," said the Serb.
After the final, Rajevac blamed a lack of experience for Egypt's late winner but he pointed out the obvious as well - that the experience gained by his youngsters will be crucial come June. Unafraid to take harsh decisions, the coach showed his qualities when reaching the final despite endless injuries and challenges.
But surely his best achievement was Ghana's genuine teamwork - a quality their West African World Cup rivals lacked. And who's to say the team would have performed so well if his stellar names (Essien, Muntari, Pantsil etc.) had been fit to replace the supreme hunger and confidence of youth?
For some of the biggest stars in Angola - like Drogba, Eto'o and Mikel - were amongst the biggest disappointments. Is that because some of their hunger to contest a Nations Cup has been removed by the lavish lifestyle, adulation and footballing atmosphere found in Europe?
And it not, what else may it be? Whatever the answer, I'm sure we'll see some very different African displays come June.
I'll be looking at Algeria's World Cup prospects - and what threat they pose to Group C rivals England - on this blog in the near future.