Durban — South Africa have made significant strides in their bid to return to a decent level of competitiveness following their African Nations Cup experience, said coach Gordon Igesund.
The home nation were knocked out of the tournament on Saturday night in a heart-wrenching penalty shootout defeat to Mali. But the coach, who is likely to keep his job, said the tournament had been a major boost for Bafana Bafana after several years of mediocre returns.
“While there is still lots of work to do, we have made great strides,” he said after the bitter defeat.
Mali won 3-1 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in their quarter-final clash at the Moses Mabhida stadium.
“It was a game that was tough for both of us but we did dominate. From my point of view we lost but with pride and dignity on the pitch. As a coach you can only ask for that. Maybe we were a little unfortunate.” Igesund said he believed South Africa now had the makings of a team that could challenge in World Cup qualification.
The quarter-final was just a step too far for Bafana Bafana, who went into the finals on the back of much turmoil and in the end departed with just one win in their four matches.
They have become a side who can play really well in patches but without the consistency and mental toughness to close out a game. There was some obvious improvement, and their lowly ranking will shoot up, plus they will take some mental courage from finishing in the last eight.
But South Africa will also realise that as a country with great resources, plenty of cash for their sport and world-class infrastructure, they are not able to field a team to match nations who struggle with war, conflict and poverty yet still prove competitive on the pitch.
Mali continue their quest to use the tournament to lift the spirits of the people of the conflict-torn west African nation. “Our win ensures that Malians can hold their heads high. They will all be celebrating and for us to provide the joy is an honour,” said captain Seydou Keita afterwards.