CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa's players are "a bunch of losers" and the former World Cup host's national team is in a state of crisis, the country's outspoken sports minister said Monday.
Fikile Mbalula, often a vocal supporter of South African sports teams, launched his stinging and surprising criticism of Bafana Bafana a day after they lost 3-1 to Nigeria and were eliminated at home in the group stage of the lower-level African Nations Championship.
"What I saw was not a problem of coaching, it was a bunch of losers," Mbalula said. "Their performance was not even lackluster, it was useless. The mediocrity that was displayed yesterday ... we must never wake up to that again."
Mbalula said he felt like "just standing up and walking out" of Sunday's loss to Nigeria at Cape Town Stadium.
"We indeed have a crisis of monumental proportions," he said, describing the players as "unbearable, useless individuals."
Mbalula's assessment — sitting alongside South African Football Association President Danny Jordaan — came amid deepening gloom for South Africa's football followers, whose team appears to be regressing after being the first African host of a World Cup.
Playing at home again, South Africa only beat Mozambique in Group A at the African Nations Championship, the continental tournament for home-based players. It drew with Mali and was outplayed by Nigeria and only scored through a late penalty after Stephen Keshi's young Super Eagles team — missing all its Europe-based stars — had put the result beyond doubt.
The early exit from a tournament South Africa backed itself to win is a new low for Bafana Bafana, which hasn't qualified for a major competition it hasn't hosted since 2008. Africa's richest country and with the continent's best football facilities, South Africa missed the World Cup in 2006 and also failed to make the tournament in Brazil this year, and wasn't even among the final 10 teams in African qualifying.
South Africa also failed to qualify for the 2010 and 2012 African Cups, only appearing in last year's continental championship as host.
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund said the team wasn't good enough. Midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala also made a public apology.
"It is honestly hurting," said Tshabalala, the man who scored the opening goal at the 2010 World Cup. "We are hurting and we know the nation is also hurting, and we are not proud of not doing well."
Jordaan said there would be a major review of the national setup and SAFA would consider a new nickname and new colors for Bafana Bafana.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP