Durban - Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund refused to be too downbeat about South Africa crashing out of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on Saturday night.
"It’s obviously disappointing, but we lost today with pride, dignity and with passion," the coach said after Bafana Bafana lost 3-1 to Mali in a penalty shootout in Durban.
"It was a very tough game for both teams, but I must say that my players gave everything. We played one of the best games we have for a while. You don’t want to lose a game when you play that well.
"It’s just unfortunate there had to be a loser today and that happened to be us."
Dean Furman and May Mahlangu both had their spot kicks blocked by Eagles goalkeeper Soumbeila Diakite. Lehlohonolo Majoro shot wide after the match ended 1-1 after extra time.
Only Siphiwe Tshabalala was successful with his penalty. Cheick Diabate, Adama Tamboura and Mahamane Traore scored for the visitors as the capacity 50 000 crowd at the Moses Mabhida Stadium was stunned into silence.
The hosts, who were playing in the knockout stages of the continental showpiece for the first time in 11 years, dominated for most of the game.
"I think we can be proud to say that we can really match anybody. This team we played here is ranked third in Africa and 25th in the world, but we matched them and dominated for long periods of the game," Igesund said.
"That obviously sets a good precedent because the players were able to do that and the way we did it today, we can only go forward."
Igesund, who thanked the country for their support, was also pleased with how his tenure as South Africa coach was shaping up.
"I think we’ve made huge strides in the biggest competition in Africa and we got better and better as the tournament went on," he added.
"It was a tough ask from the beginning, but we always remained positive, we knew what we were doing. We knew what we wanted to do.
"I got the players from 1 July when I was employed and then we had maybe 30 days with the team together and I think they’ve come a long, long way since then.
"We had a very new team with an average age of around 26 and a lot of young players really came to the party," said Igesund.