South Africa's soccer federation fired interim coach Ted Dumitru on Wednesday after the national squad's first-round exit from the African Cup of Nations.
Bafana Bafana players, some on the verge of tears, were greeted by jeers and scuffles as they arrived at Johannesburg airport following their lackluster, scoreless performance in Egypt. Police formed protective shields against angry fans.
"First of all, a big sorry to the nation," Dumitru told a news conference. "To all of you, we failed to meet even the lowest expectations."
Romanian-born Dumitru, a successful club coach in South Africa, was appointed on an interim basis when Stuart Baxter resigned following the team's failure to qualify for the upcoming World Cup finals.
Dumitru's hopes of coaching the team to the 2010 World Cup, to be held in South Africa, were ended by losses to Guinea, Tunisia and Zambia at the African Cup. South Africa hasn't won the African Cup since 1996.
South African Football Association chief executive officer Raymond Hack said that Wednesday was Dumitru's last day as head coach.
"Mr. Dumitru was selected on an interim basis and as of today he is no longer the team's head coach," Hack told the South African Press Association. "SAFA will conduct an intensive search, whether it be by interviews or head hunting for the next coach, to hopefully take the team further on a long-term basis."
Dumitru -- who was criticized for selecting a young side with little experience of playing together -- urged his successor to keep the same team because the players are young enough to still be in the running for places in the national side for the next African Cup in 2008, and the World Cup in 2010.
Captain Sibusiso Zuma said there were no excuses for the fiasco in Egypt.
"We have a big problem with South African football at the moment. We have got to fix it as soon as possible," Zuma said.