Aaron Mokoena, the South Africa defender and captain, was in tears as the national anthem rang out around Soccer City in Johannesburg earlier this week. Wednesday night's match with Ghana marked two months since South Africa's World Cup curtain-raiser with Mexico and one month exactly since Spain lifted the golden trophy to announce the end of football's first global showpiece on African soil. Jacob Zuma, the South Africa president, was in attendance and greeted each of the teams before the match got under way.
Katlego Mphela, the South Africa forward, struck late in the first half to settle the tie, but despite the lack of on-field drama, the atmosphere inside the cavernous stadium was boisterous. The match was the first opportunity for South Africans to show their commitment to the national team since they became the first host nation to be knocked out of the World Cup having failed to progress past the group stages.
Nearly 50,000 fans, clad in green and gold and tooting their vuvuzelas, each parted with R100 (Dh50) for a ticket to brave the bitter winter night and cheer on their beloved Bafana Bafana. Pitso Mosimane, the coach, started nine of the 11 players who played in South Africa's last World Cup match - a win over France - including Siphile Tshabalala, who scored the first goal of the tournament against Mexico.
The boots that the Kaizer Chiefs midfielder was wearing when he netted his thunderous strike on June 11 are set to become a focal point of a "historical monument" planned for the country's football association headquarters in Sandton, Johannesburg, as the country aims to maintain the momentum and patriotism the tournament generated. "Siphiwe Tshabalala knows those boots do not belong to him because of the historical symbolism they represent," Leslie Sedibe, the South African Football Association chief executive said. "They represent hope and they represent that we can deliver on a world stage."
The flags of the 32 nations who competed in the summer tournament continue to line the lampposts around OR Tambo Airport, while Football Fridays - the campaign that called for all South Africans to wear their national colours every Friday during the month of June - has been replaced by a new initiative called Fly the Flag. South African flags and decorated wing-mirror covers continue to be a constant sight on the streets of Sandton and its surrounding areas, while a lot of the national pride has, at the behest of President Zuma, poured into rugby union.
"As we draw the curtain on the 2010 Fifa World Cup, we now turn our focus to the fortunes of the nation's Springbok rugby team in the Tri Nations Series," Zuma said recently. "Let me remind South Africans that we are the reigning Tri Nations and rugby world champions. Therefore, do not pack away those Rainbow Nation flags just yet. National duty still calls." Local businesses are also buoyed by the fact the post-World Cup depression that was expected has yet to rear its head.
Soccer City, having already sold out the Telkom Charity Cup, a pre-season tournament played earlier this month involving four local football clubs, will take centre stage again later this month. It was feared the giant arena might become a white elephant for organisers following its R3.3billion construction for the World Cup, but South Africa host New Zealand in the Tri Nations on August 21 and support - and confidence - is high.
"The Tri Nations is getting a lot of the soccer support," said Moabi Malebye, a Johannesburg resident and keen sports fan. "Despite the Boks losing three matches in a row, people are still supportive. That's unusual for Saffers - we can often be like the English media, which is seen to call for the death penalty after only one defeat." firstname.lastname@example.org