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

The South African Football Association (Safa) have descended into pointless denial following Bafana Bafana’s dramatic exit from the 2012 African Nations Cup, lodging a formal protest with the Confederation of African Football (Caf).

Safa CEO Robin Petersen confirmed as much in the wake of their goalless draw with Sierra Leone on Saturday, that saw Bafana eliminated because of a lack of awareness over Caf’s regulations.

“We have already written a letter saying it is unheard of that a team that qualifies on top of the group in terms of points and goal difference should not qualify,” said Petersen at the team hotel.

The problem for Petersen, Safa, Bafana and the rest of the country is that it is heard of – it is written into Caf’s rules for 2012 African Nations Cup qualifying.

Rule 14.1 of the 2012 Nations Cup regulations, readily available on Caf’s own website, states that the first criteria for separating teams tied on points is the “greater number of points obtained in the matches between the concerned teams”.

The draw in Nelspruit, coupled with Niger’s 3-0 loss to Egypt in Cairo, meant that Group G ended with Bafana, Niger and Sierra Leone all tied on nine points. Using Caf’s criteria, the games between those teams saw Niger with six points, and Sierra Leone and Bafana with five – hence Niger qualified as group winners.

The rule blindsided South Africa’s media, coaching staff and players, who all expected the group to be decided on goal difference. As the game wore on, with Niger clearly losing in Cairo, Mosimane made some defensive substitutions to see out the draw he felt would get his side to the finals. Bafana’s players then danced with delight at the final whistle, but news soon filtered through that they all had got it horribly and painfully wrong.

There was still time for Sierra Leone’s coach Lars Olof Mattsson, to mistakenly congratulate Bafana at the post-match press conference, while Mosimane wore the bewildered look that spoke of a man that had just had a dream swept from underneath him.

“If I ask you to put the points together and put a team on top of the table, what are you going to do?” he said.

“Put Bafana second to Niger, with a better goal difference?”

“When you know Niger are losing 3-0 (in Cairo) and you are equal on points and have a better goal difference, it affects the substitutions.

“We played to qualify and we deserve to be in the Nations Cup.

“I am confused. I don’t feel good. I would have given it a go in the second half. Why would I keep Majoro and Mokoena on the bench and keep Khuboni and Jali on? It doesn’t make sense.”

It is impossible to say what would have happened had Bafana not played for the draw. The fact is they had not exactly pummelled the Leone Stars rearguard before Mosimane went defensive. In the first half, despite getting into some promising positions, their final pass left plenty to be desired.

After the break, Siphiwe Tshabalala wasted the country’s best chance to win, curling wide from the edge of the box. South Africa have still to score against Sierra Leone in four Nations Cup qualifying matches.

It is this lack of firepower that should concern Mosimane and Bafana far more than any rule.

THE RULES

Article 14 of the 2012 African Nations Cup regulations:

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:

14.1 Greater number of points obtained in the matches between the concerned teams;

14.2 Best goal difference in the matches between the concerned teams

14.3 Greater number of goals scored in the group matches between the concerned teams

14.4 Greater number of away goals scored in the direct matches between the concerned teams

14.5 Goal difference in all the group matches

14.6 Greatest number of goals scored in all the group matches

14.7 A drawing of lots by the Organising Committee of Caf

Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone all finished tied on nine points in Group G. As per rule 14.1, Niger beat both South Africa and Sierra Leone once, leaving them with six points, while South Africa and Sierra Leone beat Niger once, but drew twice with each other, leaving them with five points. Thus Niger progress as group winners to the 2012 Nations Cup finals.