Johannesburg - In a startling admission, many of the Bafana Bafana players have confirmed they were "in the dark" over the Caf rules that resulted in Zambia catapulting over South Africa as Group 11 winners after their stunning 3-1 win in Cape Town on Sunday - and thereby gaining an automatic qualifying berth for the tournament in Ghana next year.
The damning implication, therefore, is that Safa's technical team under coach Carlos Alberto Parreira were also "in the dark" over Caf's qualifying rules - or, alternatively, failed to communicate the exact details of the format to the players before their ignominious defeat.
Ultimately, Bafana barely squeezed into the Nations Cup Finals by virtue of being one of the three best second-placed teams in the qualifying process.
But the incorrect impression bandied about before Sunday's game at Newlands was that Bafana would retain their position as group winners as long as they avoided a defeat of three goals or more - thereby edging out Zambia by virtue of scoring more goals though the two nations involved would finish with the same 11-point tally and the same overall goal-difference.
The Caf rules, however, stipulate that when two teams end equal on points, the deciding factor will relate to the head-to-head meetings between the teams concerned and not the overall situation in the group.
And with Zambia having beaten Bafana 3-1 after losing 1-0 in an earlier qualifying game in Zambia, it was "The Silver Bullets" who blasted their way to the top of the qualifying group with a 3-2 goal advantage over the two games after finishing level with Bafana on 11 points in Group 11.
"At no time did Safa confirm that overall goal-difference and not head-to-head goal difference could decide the issue between Zambia and South Africa," said Safa media spokesman Sifiso Cele, "and Safa is not responsible if there was a widespread misconception regardin this issue.
"In fact," added Cele, "coach Parreira was always adamant that Bafana's objective against Zambia was to win the game - and had this materialised, there would have been no arguments over the rules and who the group winners were."
At the same time, Safa at no time clarified the issue either - with some outrageously incorrect submissions bandied about that Zambia needed to win the game against South Africa by a minimum of five goals to win the group.
And with Safa silent on the issue, it would seem performances off the pitch were, in some instances, not any better than those when Zambian captain Chris Katongo tore the Bafana defence to shreds with his sensational opening 20-minute hat-trick. - Sapa