Ghana's national soccer team won a $20,000 cash bonus per player on Tuesday and were hailed moral victors by former UN chief and countryman Kofi Annan after losing out on a World Cup semi-final place.
In stark contrast to the shamefaced homecomings of teams such as France [ Images ] and Nigeria, Ghana's "Black Stars" were treated to heroes' welcomes by thousands of fans when they flew back from South Africa [ Images ] to Accra airport late on Monday.
"Although you did not bring the cup home, you have won the hearts and minds of fair-minded people in Africa and the rest of the world," President John Atta Mills told the team at a lunch reception where he announced the bonuses.
These were tidy sums in a country where annual income per head averages around $500.
Ghana were denied a last-minute victory in Friday's tie against Uruguay when a blatant handball on the line stopped a certain goal. Striker Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting spot-kick and Uruguay went on to win the penalty shoot-out.
Annan, the Ghanaian diplomat who served as secretary-general of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, described the team as "great ambassadors for the game -- and for Africa".
"For a moment, my reaction to those last minutes of drama was 'how unfair'. But in fact, while you lost the game, you came out winners," said Annan, who now chairs the Africa Progress Panel that monitors development pledges for the continent.
"This thunderous solidarity is a tribute to you all, and a great omen for Africa, which is so often depicted as divided and conflicted," he added of the way Ghana became a focal point for African support after early exits by Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and hosts South Africa.
Other commentators have been more downbeat on the likely impact of the World Cup, the first on African soil, on the fortunes of the world's poorest continent, pointing to the fact that airfares and other costs put the tournament out of the reach of all but the most affluent African fans.