RUSTENBURG, South Africa (AP) — South Africa is looking on the bright side despite its disappointing elimination at the African Cup of Nations, with officials praising the team's participation at the home tournament and looking forward to a better future.
South Africa's run ended Saturday after a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Mali on penalties after a campaign that got fans excited despite a poor start and a lackluster buildup.
"Like everyone around the country, I am hugely disappointed that we did not proceed to the last four," South Africa coach Gordon Igesund said. "But I can tell you now I am very proud of my team. They matched one of the best teams on the continent and even took them to penalties."
South Africa was about 30 minutes away from advancing to the semifinals for the first time in more than a decade on Saturday, but it conceded a 58th-minute equalizer that sent the match into extra time and eventually the shootout.
"We lost with pride, dignity and passion," Igesund said. "They gave their all today. If you lose, you want to lose with pride. We played well, but we didn't score the goals."
Even the government was praising the players despite the elimination.
"Our team fought hard and dominated but as a nation we understood that there could only be one winner," South Africa Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said. "For two weeks South Africa has displayed excellent performance on and off the field, which inspired many across the length and breadth of our beloved country."
South Africa had hoped that the home advantage would help it advance past the quarterfinals for the first time since 2000, when it lost to Nigeria. The South Africans didn't qualify for last year's tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
This year it opened with a lackluster draw against newcomer Cape Verde, but fans came on board after it beat Angola 2-0 and rallied to draw Morocco 2-2 to eventually win Group A.
Midfielders Dean Furman and May Mahlangu had their shots saved by Mali goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite in the shootout in Durban, and striker Lehlohonolo Majoro sent his spot kick wide to allow Mali to reach the semifinals for the second straight time.
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