Nelspruit - Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane admitted his side could have performed better after they crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying competition on Sunday.
South Africa drew 0-0 against Sierra Leone in Nelspruit in their final qualifying match, followed awkwardly by premature celebrations in a bizarre conclusion to their campaign.
"I felt that it was a game of two halves for us and we all know that we could have done better in the first half," a dejected Mosimane said after the match.
Following initial confusion, in which Bafana players, team management and officials openly celebrated, thinking mistakenly they had qualified on goal difference, the Confederation of African Football said Niger had progressed from Group G with a better head-to-head record.
It was the second successive time that Bafana failed to qualify for the biennial AFCON tournament, having missed out last year when the tournament was played in Angola.
Had Bafana won, qualification would have been secured, with Niger losing 3-0 to bottom-placed Egypt in a simultaneous fixture in Cairo.
Outside of striker Katlego Mphela's free-kick and captain Siphiwe Tshabalala's attempted curler, Sierra Leone goalkeeper Christian Caulker was rarely threatened.
While the visitors were no more aggressive than their South African counterparts, Bafana keeper Itumeleng Khune was called on to make a crucial save in the second half from Sheriff Shuma's long-range shot that was heading goalwards.
Sierra Leone, looking to qualify for the competition for the third time, and also needing a win to go through, failed to convert their chances.
Their burly forwards, Mohamed and Teteh Bangura, probed the Bafana central defensive pairing of Morgan Gould and Siyabonga Sangweni when they were in possession, but Teteh walked off injured in the second half.
"We came here to keep a clean sheet and I felt that was good for my team," said Leone Stars coach Lars Mattsson.
"We didn't create too many chances going forward, but the one good chance was Sheriff's shot.
"I felt we lost something up front after that, when we had to substitute Teteh because of injury."
Other African teams who failed to reach next year's tournament, in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, included powerhouse nations Nigeria and Cameroon.
South Africa will automatically qualify, as hosts, for the 2013 AFCON tournament.