Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund praised his squad of "new boys" after they had beaten Lesotho 2-1 in the Cosafa Cup third-place game in Zambia on Saturday.
"Many of the players were making their debut for Bafana, while others were called up at the last minute because of the spate of withdrawals," Igesund said.
"Yet they came within a whisker of beating the eventual champions."
Zambia won the tournament for a record fourth time after the hosts had shaded Zimbabwe in the final.
A South African team devoid of all its regular players, who were unavailable, beat Namibia 2-1 in their opening appearance in the quarter-finals.
They narrowly missed a place in the final after losing a goalless semi-final against Zambia in a penalty shoot-out and completed their programme against Lesotho.
The squad returned to South Africa on Sunday, with Igesund proclaiming they had performed well under difficult circumstances.
"But what pleased me most was the manner in which the newcomers fitted into the basic pattern I am in the process of implementing for the national team," he said.
"Obviously the individual ability of the players will ultimately be a major factor in securing success, but any international side must acquire a basic tactical approach.
"It was in this respect I think we proved a point in Zambia, with the newcomers falling into line as to what was expected of them."
Igesund said tournaments like the Cosafa Cup might be relatively low-key in comparison to the World Cup or the African Nations Cup, but they serve an invaluable service in blooding young players and giving them a taste of soccer at international level.
"We have to face facts and make the best of the circumstances when top players are unavailable for Bafana in circumstances beyond our control," Igesund said.
However, Igesund bemoaned the attitude of critics who he said seemed to always harp on the negative side and lamented the fact that Bafana did not win the Cosafa Cup this time around.
"With the players at our disposal and in the prevailing circumstances, we did pretty well," he said.
"We gave a whole host of newcomers the opportunity of staking their claims as permanent members of the Bafana squad in the future."
Igesund now turns his attention to the Nelson Mandela Challenge game against Nigeria in Durban next month and a second warm-up against Burkina Faso before the critical World Cup qualifier against Botswana early in September.
"By the time we play Botswana we should have all our best players available but I now know whoever is selected, they will not let the team down."