Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter said losing a game in the dying minutes was something difficult to stomach but is proud with the overall performance of his team at the AFCON tournament.
South Africa lost 2-1 to Nigeria in the quarter-finals through a last minute winner by defender Ekong after the team had fought back from 1-0 down to bring parity to the game through a Bongani Zungu 70th minute header.
But with Bafana Bafana searching for the winner, they were caught on the break and Ekong bundled home the winner with extra time looming.
Coach Baxter admitted it was a painful experience to lose games like this.
“It is difficult when you lost a game in the dying minutes, it is difficult to find positives. I am sure in one week’s time, I will find some positives, at this moment I am finding it very difficult.
“But I thought in the first half we were not brave enough, brave enough to get on the ball in tight spaces and brave enough to press higher and in the second half I think we tried to do that better and we managed to get a better more mobile possession which gave Nigeria more problems,” Baxter told the post-match press conference.
“But we still could not find that last strike at goal because Nigeria are always dangerous, they are well organised, have good players and because we didn’t defend as well as we could and we were trying to press higher, we left some spaces down the flanks where they could attack.
“We were trying to win the game but lost on the last minute which is difficult to take. Congratulations to Nigeria and I am sure they will be one of the teams that will be competing to lift the trophy at the end of the tournament,” he added.
We fought our way back into the game and at the moment we scored, you can imagine that Nigeria were not very pleased and if we have a chance to win the game I think this a tournament you get nothing for a draw.
“So then we kept on pushing as much as we can without leaving ourselves too exposed and the goal comes from a set play which is not dealt by us. I don’t think we can close out the game any better,” said the Bafana Bafana coach. “When we scored, we were on the front foot; I think you have an obligation in the game of football to be positive in such circumstances.”
Baxter said since Bafana Bafana’s win in Uyo, the team has gone through massive changes bringing is some young players into the mix
“Since our last win over Nigeria in Uyo, there has been a massive change in the face of this Bafana Bafana squad. I think we have had 13 debutants during the last two years. Even the players who were good players, we changed quite a few. We had to do because we had to re-manipulate the average age of the team. We have brought in some younger ones, we have kept some of the older players and I think it has been a difficult journey because as a coach if you make changes sometimes that is very popular, you bring in some young players that is very popular and when you lose it doesn’t sit very well. The journey has been difficult but we didn’t lose a game in one and half years.”
He said the AFCON experience will do all the players a lot of good going forward.
“This experience will do the players a lot of good, we have to learn, it should not be just a question of experience but we need to be better.”