South Africa head coach Gordon Igesund says his side’s future looks good despite their Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final exit.
Mali defeated Igesund’s side 3-1 on penalties after the teams could not be split over normal and extra time.
South Africa took a deserved lead in the first half through Tukelo Rantie before Mali’s captain Seydou Keita equalised after the break, as scores stayed at 1-1 heading into the shootout.
Despite eventually losing, the hosts were impressive and Igesund hopes to use the experience to build a more confident and competent team.
“I think the improvement we’ve made is fantastic,” Igesund said.
“You have the players from July 1 and maybe you have 30 days together, I think they’ve come a long, long way.
“In a lot of aspects not just on the pitch but the way they conduct themselves; the sportsmanship, the passion, the pride when they put on the jersey.
“We had a very new team, average age at twenty six I think.
“A lot of young players really came to the party.
“So yes we’re disappointed but I think this team’s got a bright future.”
South Africa entered the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations ranked 85th in the world and 22nd on their home continent, ahead of just four other teams that qualified for the tournament.
But Igesund’s squad, made up almost entirely of players based in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League, reached the quarter-finals as winners of Group A ahead of Cape Verde Islands (FIFA World Ranking – 70), Morocco (74) and Angola (78).
“I think we’ve made huge strides,” Igesund said.
“We’ve got better and better as the tournament went on and think we were unfortunate today.”
South Africa captain Bongani Khumalo expressed his side’s gratitude for the support they received throughout the tournament and called on fans to stick with them as they look ahead to the 2014 World Cup and beyond.
“It’s obviously sad that we’re out of the tournament now but we’re very grateful for the positivity that was around us and the positive messages we have received,” Khumalo said.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done this season, we have to move on and take what we have and build from that.
“We’ll need the countries support going forward for the amount of things we want to achieve in the future.”