The South African national soccer team intentionally played to a 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone this past Saturday, and then danced across the field in celebration of having qualified for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. The problem: Bafana Bafana, as the team is known, had not qualified for the 2012 Cup. Bafana Bafana, in fact, had narrowly missed out on the Cup because they'd only played for a tie.
Head coach Pitso Mosimane admitted to the press that he'd planned for the tie, thinking that the single point would be enough to earn his team a spot in the Cup's final group. Here's more from the Guardian:
But South Africa actually needed a win to avoid being eliminated on head-to-head results between the three teams tied at the top, and no one appeared to have studied the regulations correctly. So despite playing out the draw they were pipped by Niger, who qualified for the first time.
More embarrassingly, the Bafana Bafana celebrated at the end of the scoreless stalemate in Nelspruit, thinking they had done enough to advance to next year's finals, which will be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
"It's very sad for South Africa because the country deserves to be in next year's Nations Cup. I feel like I have failed," Mosimane said.
After the game, Bafana Bafana celebrated on the pitch, the African Broadcasting Corporation announced their qualification, and the president of the South African Football Association (SAFA) congratulated the team on-air. Soon after, CAF announced Niger's berth over South Africa. According to a competition rule, when two or more teams have equal points after all group matches, "a greater number of points obtained in the matches between the concerned teams will determine the group winner."
In other words, South Africa should have scored a goddamn goal.
SAFA CEO Robin Petersen filed Bafana Bafana's protest letter yesterday, arguing that the ruling "defeats the traditional way of determining a log standing" and explaining that "their interpretation of the rule differed from that of CAF."
It's unlikely that the protest will go anywhere this year, as the Nations Cup's (rather lame) finalists are already decided—and from an outsider's perspective, there is some logic in punishing a team for purposely playing a 0-0 draw—but Mosimane maintains that his team is being treated unfairly by an archaic set of rules.
"Africa is a jungle, my friend," the coach said on Sunday. "The European and South American formats are so much better because everything is running smoothly, but it's very difficult to play in Africa."