By Opheera McDoom
NELSPRUIT, South Africa (Reuters) - Ivory Coast exit the 2010 World Cup disappointed and without a coach, but convinced their promising youngsters will be back stronger in four years time.
The Ivorians produced some of the better performances by an African team at the tournament, holding Portugal, ranked third in the world, to a goalless draw, losing 3-1 to world number one Brazil, and convincingly beating North Korea 3-0.
But, getting out of a difficult Group G proved beyond them.
"We were in the death group again," Souleymane Bamba, 25, told Reuters after the match, adding that in their first World Cup finals in 2006 they were also in probably the strongest group which included Argentina and Holland.
"Two World Cups, two tough groups, but nothing we can do."
Players said their last minute stand-in coach Sven Goran-Eriksson had made a big difference and they would have been keen for him to remain in the job. However, the Swede is adamant he will move on after the World Cup.
"We see the changes he made -- we played better and more like a team," said Bamba. "If he was there more than three weeks before I think we'd have had even more chance to go through."
African Footballer of the Year Didier Drogba, who scored against Brazil, said he was proud of his team and would have liked to continue working with Eriksson.
"I think if they asked him he would say yes because he found a very good team and very good spirit in the team and he's a leader so we are really happy with him," Drogba told reporters.
Eriksson himself said the side had great potential and had been improving in every training session.
"It's a good team and I think the future belongs to this country ... absolutely," he said after the final match. "This team is getting better and better ... it's disciplined, organized and I think they showed that in all the games."
Midfielder Ndri Romaric, who started for the first time on Friday and scored, was one to emerge at the tournament and could now have sealed a regular starting place, Bamba said.
Defender Arthur Boka said young players like 23-year-old Gervais Kouassi also pointed to a bright future.
"It was magnificent -- we have hope for a great future," he told Reuters. "The young players played very well in the competition and I am very proud of them."