Durban - Mali's soccer captain Seydou Keita has lamented his team’s disjointed Africa Cup of Nations performance against Nigeria.
Every player had to take responsibility following their 4-1 semi-final humbling in Durban on Wednesday.
The Eagles were outrun and outfought at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, where a spectacular first-half display by the Nigerians played a key role in setting them on the road to victory.
GALLERY: Nigeria v MaliGALLERY: Burkina Faso v Ghana
Stephen Keshi’s side led 3-0 at the break after goals by Elderson Echiejile, Brown Ideye, and Emmanuel Emenike.
Substitute Ahmed Musa extended that advantage on the hour mark, before Cheick Fantamady grabbed a consolation.
"We failed to win... it is not about individuals, but about a collective effort," veteran skipper Keita said.
"We were very happy against South Africa (in the quarterfinals) because we played as a team. Tonight we didn’t play well and we must all share responsibility."
Four nights earlier, the Malians had emerged victorious against the hosts at the same venue, prevailing 3-1 on a penalty shootout after the match had ended 1-1 after extra time.
But they had no answer against the west African rivals and were second to everything, losing out in the last four, for the second tournament running.
"It is difficult to give a fair analysis of what happened out there," Keita said.
"I think experience played an important role. Nigeria has a young team, but there is a good blend of older players within their squad as well.
"It’s hard to take a defeat like this and I am very down right now. They won and were the better team than us."
His coach Patrice Carteron was equally despondent, although he was still satisfied with their overall showing in South Africa.
"I'm proud of the players, because we worked hard to get here," Carteron said.
"We are pleased with the fact that we have been able to play well to get here, and I am proud of my team, even though we did not go to the final. We have to remain positive."
The Frenchman also played down suggestions that opposite number Keshi’s inside knowledge of Mali, a team he coached during 2009 and 2010, had any bearing on the result.
"I don’t think it is a case of Mr. Keshi having some inside information about us," Carteron added.
"He knows certain players, but not all of them. Tonight we lost against a good team that was full of confidence.
"They just beat Ivory Coast (in the quarterfinals) and you could see their confidence on the night. What happened to us out there was very difficult."
Mali will now contest the third/fourth place play-off against Ghana in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.