Seydou Keita has again failed to lead Mali to a continental title, saying his team lacked the experience needed to cope with Nigeria in their African Cup of Nations semifinal on Wednesday.
It was Keita's fourth semifinal appearance with Mali and again he was on the losing side. The former Barcelona midfielder said Mali failed collectively and that the relative youth of most of the team made the difference in the 4-1 defeat at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, South Africa.
"In this situation, it's difficult to have a fair analysis but I think that experience played a very important role in our defeat today," the Mali captain said. "We have a young team."
Mali will now try to finish third for the second straight time. It lost 1-0 to Ivory Coast in last year's semifinals, before earning a 2-0 win over Ghana in the consolation match.
"I don't want to say that I was better than the rest and that the other players let me down," he said. "No, tonight we weren't good collectively, in the same way that against South Africa we were good together. Today we failed as a team, that's all."
He added: "We have to share the responsibility. It's about our collective effort, it's not about one or two players."
Mali coach Patrice Carteron also refused to point fingers, saying "it's too easy to put the blame on individuals" after "such a difficult and painful" defeat.
"If some players have not given their best, I am the one who is responsible for having failed to motivate them enough," he said. "We started our preparations with a majority of players who are substitutes in their teams. I don't think we have many stars in this team. We have one charismatic leader, that is Seydou, for the rest they are good players, but not outstanding players."
The 33-year-old Keita said there were no excuses for the team's defeat and praised Nigeria, which will now play in Sunday's final.
"Tonight we played against a team that was better than us," he said. "It is tough for us accept it, especially because we had an entire country rooting for us and hoping that we would win this game. All we can do now is to try and analyze this game and try and get the third place in the competition, and bring the joy we failed to give to our people."
Keita was one of many players to have said that victory would've been extra special because of the difficulties fans are enduring with political instability and conflicts back home as French troops fight Islamist extremists.