NELSPRUIT, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 08, Bafana players celebrates during the African Cup of Nations qualifier match between South Africa and Sierra Leone from Mbombela Stadium on October 08, 2011 in Nelspruit, South Africa Photo by Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images

reuters and SAPA dpa

A little more than a year after hosting the World Cup, South African football is this week nursing a giant hangover after a failure to understand the rules that saw them miss out on qualification for the African Cup of Nations (Afcon).

Coach Pitso Mosimane admitted he had changed tactics and played for a 0-0 draw in Saturday’s final qualifier at home to Sierra Leone, thinking it was sufficient to win the group and qualify for the 2012 finals, to be jointly hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

South Africa actually needed a win to avoid being eliminated on head-to-head results between the three teams tied at the top of the table, but no-one appeared to have studied the regulations correctly.

Despite playing out the draw, they were pipped by outsiders Niger, who qualified for the first time.

More embarrassingly, Bafana celebrated their supposed qualification at the end of the match in Nelspruit, thinking they had done enough to advance to next year’s finals.

Mosimane, who took over after the World Cup, was under the impression that goal difference was the determining factor to decide the group winners. So, when he was told that leaders Niger were losing in Egypt, he changed tactics and settled for a draw.

Niger had led Bafana by a point going into the final round of qualifiers on Saturday.

“Do you think I would have left (striker Lehlohonolo) Majoro on the bench and put on a midfielder if I knew that we needed a goal? It doesn’t make sense,” Mosimane said, before criticising the regulations. “Africa is a jungle, my friend.”

Mosimane was not the only one to fall foul of a misreading of the rules. The SABC proclaimed qualification and the South African Football Association (Safa) president Kirsten Nematandani went on television to congratulate the team.

Safa attempted a damage limitation exercise yesterday, sending a protest letter to the Cairo-based Confederation of African Football arguing their team’s failure to win top place in the qualifying group was unfair and that they would appeal the decision.

The rules, though, were clear long before the start of the qualifying period: “In case of equality of points between two or more teams, after all the group matches, the ranking of the teams shall be established according to the following criteria: Greater number of points obtained in the matches between the concerned teams.”

A majority of football fans writing on a local footballing website have said they do not approve of Safa’s decision to appeal.

A user called Mmusi urged Safa to drop the case: “Stop embarrassing our country. The rules were not implemented mid-competition.”

Sabelo wrote: “Challenging the rules is more stupid than yesterday’s celebrations.”

Nematandani came in for criticism after saying that the association would fight the case all the way.

“Mr Nematandani, don’t embarrass our nation further. These rules were the first to be put in place. I now understand why our standard of education is deemed to be low. When I read these rules, they are plain, clear and not ambiguous. You are supposed to take blame here, together with your entire team and management,” thabani1980 wrote.

“I think you must apologise to the nation for misinterpretation of the stated rule.”

The fans also slammed goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who was blatantly involved in time-wasting and then joked with fans during the game, pointing to an imaginary watch on his wrist. “Failing to beat a team ranked 150-something at home is disgraceful, add to that Khune’s disgraceful behaviour on the field of play,” Mandla wrote.