Coach Dumitru retains optimism despite South Africa's failure

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What happened to South Africa? They were stunned by the underdogs Guinea, were defeated by Tunisia after a second half of suicidal defending and finally let Zambia prevail by botching a string of glaring chances.

After a week of games in Egypt, the Bafana Bafana conceded five goals, scored none, and exited the African Nations' Cup with little to cling to but the coach Ted Dumitru's hard-to-explain optimism.

"I think we had very good matches in this competition," Dumitru said, adding that his young team's "very open and attacking minded tactics" bode well for future preparations to host Africa's first World Cup in 2010. The Romanian-born Dumitru took over from Stuart Baxter, who quit in November after a failed World Cup qualifying campaign. The 69-year-old Dumitru is credited for his knowledge of the game and highly successful career in domestic leagues.

But he ran into criticism for dropping the defender Nasief Morris from the Greek club Panathinaikos and falling out with the captain Aaron Mokoena, of Blackburn Rovers, who walked out in protest.

"I'm not convinced that teams with a lot of players in top European clubs will decide the outcome of this tournament," Dumitru said. "It's imperative that we start moving away from that concept... let's develop our own players."

The Bundesliga player Sibusiso Zuma was South Africa's lone stand-out player during their three Group C matches and was dropped with other regulars in the last game against Zambia as Dumitru tested a largely reserve side.

His approach, Dumitru argues, is "part of our attempt to create a new base of talent, a new platform of national team players".

He also complained of few opportunities to prepare the team.

"The element of high pressure was not absorbed by the players. We only played one international friendly and had 19 days' preparation," Dumitru said.