CAIRO – South Africa coach Stuart Baxter admitted it was tough to draw any positives from Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Bafana Bafana stunned the hosts Egypt in the last 16 but were eliminated four days later in Cairo after William Troost-Ekong bundled in a late winner for three-time champions Nigeria.
“It’s difficult when you’ve lost a game in the dying minutes, it’s difficult to find positives. I’m sure in one week’s time I will find some positives, but at this moment I’m finding it very difficult,” said Baxter.
“I thought in the first have we weren’t brave enough, brave enough to get on the ball in tight space, and brave enough to press higher. In the second half, we tried to do that better, and we managed to get a better more mobile possession which gave Nigeria more problems, but we still couldn’t find that last strike on goal.”
Nigeria took the lead through a first-half goal by Samuel Chukwueze but South Africa hit back 20 minutes from time when Bongani Zungu’s header was awarded the aid of VAR, being used at the tournament for the first time, after the linesman had originally flagged for offside.
“Nigeria were always dangerous, really well organized and have good players, and because we didn’t defend as well as we could and we tried to press higher, we left some spaces down the flanks where their good players could attack,” said Baxter.
“And then you make the choice as a coach: you go defensive and try to have 1-1 and go to extra time, or you try to win the game.
“This is a tournament, you get nothing for a draw. If I had suddenly gone defensive it would be admitting I didn’t think we were good enough to beat Nigeria. I think in the tournament you’ve got to take that chance.
“So we tried to win the game but we lost it in the dying minutes which is tough to take, but congratulations to Gernot (Rohr) and his team, I’m sure they’ll be one of the teams competing to lift the trophy.”