The South African Football Association said it had lodged an official appeal with the Confederation of African Football, challenging CAF's interpretation of the rules after Niger qualified ahead of South Africa and Sierra Leone when all three teams finished on nine points.
South Africa believed it had qualified as Group G winner on goal difference and the players danced in front of cheering fans and coach Pitso Mosimane hugged members of his technical staff following Saturday's 0-0 home draw with Sierra Leone at Mbombela Stadium.
South Africa was stunned when CAF later announced Niger had, in fact, gone through to the 16-team African championship in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea because of its better record in head-to-head games with the other two teams.
''We have noted that CAF has announced that Niger has qualified in our group, despite South Africa finishing on top of the group in terms of goal difference which is the universally recognized means of separating teams who are equal on points,'' SAFA said in its letter to CAF.
Mosimane said he adjusted his tactics during the game against Sierra Leone to ensure South Africa held on for a draw, thinking that would qualify it for Cup with news that Niger was losing 3-0 in Egypt.
At the final whistle, goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune led a group of players who danced for supporters at all four corners of the 2010 World Cup stadium and other team members held up banners.
CAF released a statement on Saturday to confirm Niger had qualified instead of South Africa, quoting from the rules that were published before the start of the final round of qualifiers.
It said Niger had six points in games against South Africa and Sierra Leone. The other two only collected five in the head-to-head contests.
SAFA insisted it would fight to have its team included in Africa's top tournament, which runs Jan. 21-Feb. 12.
''Do not despair, all is not lost,'' SAFA President Kirsten Nematandani said he told the South African players in the dressing room. ''We believe we have a case and we will carry this fight all the way.''
Follow Gerald Imray at http://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP