South Africans 'disappointed but proud' after World Cup exit

Goalkeeper Josephs laments 3-0 defeat to Uruguay as Bafana become the first hosts not to reach last 16
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The Independent Football

South Africa's players exited the World Cup with a mixture of pride and disappointment following a 2-1 win over France on Tuesday. The bitter blow of becoming the first host to fail to advance beyond the first round was softened by victory over the 1998 world champions, the South Africa goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs said.

"We are still disappointed," Josephs said. "If we look at the performance we put in there and look back... we could have done this in the second game and made it much easier for ourselves.

"But then again we have to look on the brighter side and be proud of the way the guys put in the effort today, for the nation and for the people that were right behind us from the start."

The South African captain, Aaron Mokoena, agreed, saying his team could take heart from its World Cup performance as it signed off with a victory. "A draw, a loss and a win. I don't think it's a bad result," Mokoena said. "It's mixed feelings for everyone that we couldn't make it through, but there are so many positives we can take from this."

After his final game in charge of Bafana Bafana, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira described how South Africa's President, Jacob Zuma, had visited the team in the dressing room and told the players he was happy with the result and that "life goes on".

Parreira said: "I believe that the whole country is proud. We are disappointed but I told my players, 'Put your head up, this is not a failure.' What the boys did for me in these seven months of preparation, I have to say to them, 'Thank you very much.' I'm so happy with this occasion."

Midfielder Steven Pienaar said South Africa – who eventually lost out to Mexico on goal difference for the second qualifying place in Group A – had believed they could reach the next round even after the devastating 3-0 loss to Uruguay in its last game.

"You can't say that we didn't give our best," he said. "We pushed from the first minute. With football we brought our nation together and showed that we are one country ... we have to be proud of the team."

But striker Katlego Mphela, who scored one of the goals against France at Free State Stadium and was man of the match, said he was still haunted by a missed chance against Mexico in the tournament's opening game 13 days ago.

"I'm still thinking about it and it's killing me," Mphela said in reference to his shot that hit the post in the dying minutes of the 1-1 draw at Soccer City on 11 June. If that shot had just been a few inches to the right, it would have been South Africa – and not Mexico – heading into the last 16, and Mphela said it would take him a while to get over the miss.

"It was a World Cup, the biggest event in the world," the 25-year-old forward said. "I guess I can't beat myself up about it. It was a chance, I missed it."

Parreira said he had earned the right "to take it easy" after becoming the first man to coach in six World Cups. Parreira said it was "a privilege, an honour" to be in charge of the South African team for the first World Cup in Africa, but he was now looking forward to some time off.

"I have worked very hard for the last nine months. We haven't stopped. It's been my effort and my players' effort at 100 per cent and it has taken a lot out of us," Parreira said at his final press conference. "South Africa can be very proud of its team," he said, despite the early exit.

The 67-year-old Parreira, who won the 1994 title as coach of his native Brazil, said there was now nothing left for him to do at World Cups.

Having led Kuwait at the 1982 World Cup, the UAE in 1990, Saudi Arabia in 1998 and Brazil in the 1994 and 2006 tournaments, Parreira returned for a second spell in charge of South Africa late last year after his first term was cut short when his wife fell ill in Brazil.

Parreira transformed South Africa from a squad that was struggling ahead of the World Cup into a dangerous underdog and lost just once in 15 games – the 3-0 defeat by Uruguay in its second group game which sealed its World Cup fate.

"This team now has an identity and if I am proud of anything, its that I have given this team a face, an identity," Parreira said.

He told reporters he would take a break until the end of the year, and if he did make a return to coaching he would only consider roles in Brazil.

A successful hosting of the World Cup by South Africa should be the spur for a bid for a first African Olympics, President Zuma suggested.

He said he would support any future bid by one of South Africa's cities to host the Games. "We have got the facilities. Those who take decisions [about the hosting of major sports event] have seen how South Africa is. I'm sure we could do it," he said. "I will put it on the agenda because it is important to bring people from all over the world here. Sport is very important for us."