Before 2006, Cote d'Ivoire did not participate in a single World Cup. Brazil is now their third successive appearance at the quadrennial tournament.
In Fortaleza, they were less than a minute away from successfully plotting a path out of a tricky group, and perhaps inspiring Ghana, Nigeria and Algeria to join them in the Round of 16, only to be harshly denied by the last kick of the match.
Video replays suggest that coach Sabri Lamouchi's side were victims of the latest incident in a string of poor officiating at this World Cup. In the 93rd minute, Greek striker Georgios Samaras clumsily tripped himself after a miskick and won a penalty, sinking hearts and piquing disbelief.
The West Africans had just cause to lambaste the officials, as many did at New Ivoire Restaurant, an intimate hub for New York's Ivorian community in Harlem. But more stoic supporters in attendance understood the brutal truth: This squad, blessed with the finest players in its history, had faded with little to show on the world stage.
The sight of each player locked shoulder to shoulder during national anthems offered a fleeting glimpse of their golden generation, led by captain Didier Drogba, 36, and midfield titan Yaya Touré, 31.
Brazil will most likely be the last World Cup for both players.
Drogba, a national hero, is his country's highest-ever goal scorer, most memorably leading his side to the 2006 African Cup of Nations final. Last year, the former Chelsea striker's foundation announced the building of five new specialized clinics throughout Cote d'Ivoire. His image is ubiquitous across much of West Africa, adorning billboards and barbershops.
A packed crowd at New Ivoire saluted Drogba with deafening applause and well wishes in pidgin French.
Less adoration was reserved for Salomon Kalou, 28, a stalwart with perennially frustrating decision-making in key attacking areas, and Touré, the free-scoring fulcrum of Manchester City's title-winning side.
Some in the orange-draped Harlem eatery genuinely believed Touré has prioritized his club over country, his weekly six-figure salary over national desire. But the Cote d'Ivoire president's potentially corrosive pledge to double the cash bonuses for each player if they avoided a group stage exit did not have the desired effect, either.
Lamouchi's successor would do well to build a new squad around the attacking prowess of its standout fullback, Serge Aurier, just as Juande Ramos' UEFA Cup–winning Sevilla side did with Brazil's Dani Alves in 2006. Aurier's mature wide play formed Cote d'Ivoire's most positive moments, yielding assists that sealed a comeback against Japan.
But whether elite leadership will emerge again to champion a new generation remains uncertain. The complacent last stand of Les Elephants' golden generation remains inexplicable, now merely an afterthought in the annals of World Cup lore.
Vik Sohonie, a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School, reports on immigrant communities and founded the music label Ostinato Records.