Durban – Affter the manner of Bafana Bafana’s exit from the Africa Cup of Nations, the national team probably can’t wait to get stuck into the Brazil World Cup qualifiers again.
The heartbreak of their quarter-final loss to Mali on Saturday is one they would want to put behind them as soon as possible.
But memories of how they beat Angola and drew with Morocco in their Durban group matches, and then 1-1 with Mali after extra-time at the weekend, will be cherished and used to spur the team on to greater heights.
Bafana can only go forward and build on these performances, said coach Gordon Igesund after the penalty meltdown against Mali at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
He must be itching to take on the Central African Republic in their next World Cup qualifier at home next month.
“There’s still a lot of work to do but strides have been made and we can match anyone. Mali are ranked third in Africa. We matched and dominated them for long periods.
“The way we played, we can only go forward. The World Cup will be a tough task but this performance showed a big improvement in attitude.
“We’re playing exciting football and its disappointing to lose on a penalty shoot-out, but I’m sure we’ll go forward from here,” said Igesund.
South Africa’s performance was full of heart as they took the game to their higher ranked opponents and led the first half via a goal from striker Tokelo Rantie.
However, the Eagles bounced back after the break to level the tie through captain and midfielder Seydou Keita, and eventually won the shoot-out where goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite produced two stunning stops.
On top of finishing the competition unbeaten through open play, Igesund draws hope from the character his side displayed.
“It was a tough game for both sides and we dominated in areas. We lost with pride, dignity and passion.
“As a coach you can only get so much out of a team. If ever we had to lose a game, then against Mali we lost with pride and dignity. The players gave their all.
“The performance was such that you don’t want to lose when you play that well.
“One of the biggest things we can take away is that the quality of the teams was very good and in a short space of time we showed we can match anybody.
“Without doubt we’ll get better and better, and with more time to work as a team we’ll get even stronger.
“Overall the competition was fantastic, the biggest in Africa. We made huge strides and got better as the tournament went on.
“It was a tough ask from the beginning and we made improvements.
“There was passion, commitment and pride from this new team every time they put their jerseys on, and the average age is about 26 years. I’m disappointed but we’ve got a bright future.”
The likes of Dean Furman, May Mahlangu and Tokelo Rantie played their first major international tournament and won the hearts of the nation.
Furman won one Man of the Match award while the other two scored a goal apiece.
Igesund pointed to players like Daylon Claasen, Ayanda Patosi, Morgan Gould (injured), Steven Pienaar (retired) and Eric Matoho (injured) as an example of the quality of personnel who were unavailable.
He reiterated that if players across the country delivered in terms of commitment and pride to earn the national jersey then there would be opportunities for them in the national team. – The Mercury