DURBAN, South Africa - Nigeria's players were in tears after a string of squandered chances in Tuesday's game against South Korea led to yet another early exit for an African team at the World Cup.
Nigeria left the competition with just one point after being held by South Korea 2-2 and missing several good scoring opportunities.
Host South Africa exited the World Cup earlier Tuesday, despite their 2-1 win over France, while Cameroon has already been eliminated, and Ivory Coast and Ghana face difficult tasks to progress.
"There a lot of people crying in there," midfielder Dickson Etuhu said after the game, pointing to the dressing room. "It's difficult when you have the chances and you don't take them. Everyone's down and they can't believe it's over.
"It wasn't our day, everything that could go wrong, went wrong ... This World Cup has been almost, almost, almost."
In Tuesday's game, Nigeria's worst misses came when Kalu Uche struck a hard shot against the post in the 36th minute, and in the 66th when Yakubu Ayegbeni inexplicably tapped the ball wide in front of an open goal.
Nigeria lost 1-0 to Argentina in it's Group B opener and fell to Greece 2-1 in a game turned by the first-half expulsion of influential midfielder Sani Kaita.
The Super Eagles haven't won a World Cup match since 1998. The Nigerians went out with two defeats and a draw in 2002 and did not qualify for the 2006 World Cup.
Coach Lars Lagerback praised his players' professionalism, and refused to fault them for missing chances.
"I was disappointed about all those chances. But the players have done really well. They worked hard over time," said the veteran Swedish coach, who did not comment on his future with Nigeria.
"Did we do enough? We can always discuss that. We did as much as we could."
Lagerback said African teams needed greater continuity, rather than the common pattern of coaches being put in charge for short stints, and said more effort was needed to use veteran players to mentor youngsters.
Nigeria captain Nwankwo Kanu — a two-time African Player of the Year — played his first match in the South Africa tournament Tuesday, and indicated his long international career was close to an end.
"Right now we are very, very sad. This was a big disappointment," the 33-year-old said.
"If this is going to be my last (World Cup), I would say I loved it because I started playing football in Africa and I end up in Africa — which is good."