Johannesburg - Midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala said on Sunday that hosts South Africa did their best but it was not good enough to overcome Mali in an Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final thriller.
Mali won 3-1 on penalties after a 1-1 stalemate late on Saturday to reach the semi-finals and confirm a reputation for being party poopers having ousted co-hosts Gabon on penalties in the 2012 tournament.
The Eagles will face two-time champions Nigeria at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Indian Ocean city Durban on Wednesday with a place in the February 10 final at stake. Nigeria on Sunday stunned title favourites Ivory Coast 2-1 in Rustenburg.
VIDEO: South Africa v Mali, highlights
"We did our best, but on the night our best was not good enough to take us through," admitted the 28-year-old wide midfielder from Kaizer Chiefs.
"The team wanted the victory, the team wanted to qualify, but it was not to be. All of us are very disappointed and sad about the result because we played with so much passion.
"We faced a great team in Mali and we matched them. We even dominated them at some stages of the game but, unfortunately, we could not score the goals that would have taken us through."
Tshabalala, who took the first kick of the shootout after South Africa won the toss, was the only Bafana Bafana player to score as he fired the ball past Soumbeyla Diakite.
Dean Furman and May Mahlangu had shots to the left side of the goal saved and Lehlohonolo Majoro blazed a spot kick that had to be converted well off target to leave Mali 3-1 shootout winners.
Tshabalala, whose earnings last year were estimated at R3.6m and is involved in a fish-and-chips chain, said he respected the decision by coach Gordon Igesund to axe him.
The 1.70m dreadlocked midfielder flopped in the drab, drawn tournament opener against Cape Verde, did not feature against Angola and Morocco and came on halfway through extra time for Bernard Parker against Mali.
"No footballer likes sitting on the bench and anyone who is happy in that position does not deserve to wear the national jersey. However, the coach did what he thought was best for the team."
The star called 'Shabba' is upbeat about this year with South Africa facing Central African Republic (home/away), Ethiopia (away) and Botswana (home) in 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Held at home by Ethiopia and away by Botswana, Bafana Bafana lie only third in a group they were expected to dominate, two points behind Ethiopia and one adrift of Central African Republic.
"We proved at the Cup of Nations that we can compete against the best teams in Africa. We must focus on the World Cup qualifiers with confidence," said the star who scored the opening goal of the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa.