RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — They have no team at this World Cup. Even knowledgeable soccer fans would struggle to name a player from its national squad. But even in a stadium of waving flags, theirs stands out, because of the crowd forming around it.

The five Spanish teens want to chant "campiones," draped in the flag of the last World Cup host. The Japanese couple want a picture in honour of Mandela. The South African carrying it is happy to oblige.

The five South Africans are backroom boys from the Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club. They're here, in the words of its chief scout Trott Moloto, "on a big mission. And of course, to enjoy the World Cup."

His mission? To scout for his team, currently top of the South African Premier League table.

"We want to steal some tactics from some of the established countries like Brazil, Spain, France and Argentina," said Moloto.

But he's especially keen to follow the progress of the tournament's African teams, which he hopes will be inspired by Cameroon's legendary 1990 run to the quarter-finals in Italy.

"We've met with our brothers from Cameroon,” said Moloto. “Cameroon have made a big impact in most of our lives in Africa because they're the one country who have represented Africa very well. They give us hope that when we were having an opportunity to compete, that we could do better."

However Cameroon should have lost by more than the one goal in its opening game. Nigeria failed to impress in its draw against lower-ranked Iran. And Ghana lost its most winnable game in the Group of Death to the Americans. Moloko believes the continent's real hope lies with a West African neighbour.

"I'll definitely say it's Ivory Coast that will make the biggest impact in this World Cup,” he said. “They are by far the strongest team in the region. Now's the time for Africa to stand up and be counted."

Near the top of the list of predictions that Pélé got wrong: his assertion that an African team would win the World Cup by the end of the last century.

Moloko is undaunted. As he acknowledges African teams are still learning, on and off the field. But they've reached a stage where it's no longer a surprise when they beat good teams. He says there's more to come from Africa in Brazil, and that the continent's influence will only grow in Russia and Qatar:

"This is only the beginning." 

Kim Brunhuber is a Senior Reporter for CBC News and is in Rio for the World Cup