South Africa’s men’s football team are “very much aware” of the “emotional pain” they have caused the country’s population by failing to qualify for the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, coach Molefi Ntseki has said.
Bafana Bafana needed only a point away in Sudan to make it to the finals in Cameroon next year, but lost 2-0 – a result that put Sudan through at their expense.
Ntseki said that he knew there had been high expectations – and he and his team were well aware of the disappointment that would be felt in the wake of the defeat.
“Not qualifying has dented our image, our possibilities,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
“As passionate South Africans, the expectation was for Bafana Bafana to qualify for Afcon – and maybe to do better than the last time. The disappointment goes to every South African.
“As players, as coaches, we are very much aware of the emotional pain we have caused all South Africans.”
South Africa were drawn in Group C in qualification, alongside Ghana, Sudan and Sao Tome.
With Sao Tome proving to be very weak – and thus almost guaranteeing the other three teams a minimum of six points – the group became an intense three-way battle.
Ntseki said that going into the final two fixtures – at home to Ghana and then away in Sudan, the team felt they were “almost there”.
But he said they had been hit by Covid restrictions that prevented some of South Africa’s best players flying out for the matches.
Although his patched-up team had rallied quickly against Ghana after going a goal down to come back to draw, some of those replacement players then succumbed to injuries ahead of the Sudan game, Ntseki added.
“Coming into Sudan, it is a foreign land, with foreign challenges,” he said.
“Having to travel immediately after the game, then one training session and then a match.”
He explained that knowing they only needed a draw, “the idea was not to concede.”
But when Sudan scored early – Saifeldin Maki netting after just 15 minutes – that plan was destroyed.
“It was a very big setback for us to concede two goals in the first half,” he said.
“We missed chances. On the day we could not get a goal or see ourselves getting an equaliser.”