Maela was part of the side that beat Libya 2-1 in their final Group E clash in Tunisia on Sunday evening, when Bafana sealed their spots at the 24-team tournament in Egypt in June.
Speaking to his club’s official website ahead of their return to Johannesburg this morning, the full-back expressed his delight at the magnitude of the achievement under strenuous circumstances.
“I am so happy right now. We had a lot of pressure going into this game because of the hopes of the millions of people on our shoulders,” Maela said.
“This is a football loving country and for far too long they had little to be proud of about the national team, but with this qualification, I think, could be the start of a renewed hope and belief in Bafana Bafana.”
The 26-year-old, however, is wary that qualification is only a minor achievement but says plenty can be taken from the experience in Sfax, and hopes to build on only his third 90-minute run.
“Obviously this is only the beginning, the real test will be in Egypt later this year, but for now we can be proud of returning to the competition after failing to qualify in 2017,” he added.
“On a personal level, I am happy to have played the entire match. I look forward to building on this performance and play more crucial games for my country.”