Bafana Bafana gave new coach Molefi Ntseki the perfect start to his tenure by beating Mali 2-1 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
Bay soccer fans braved the chilly weather in support of the national team, which they had last seen live in action in 2011 against Ivory Coast.
And they were well rewarded.
A Dean Furman penalty and well-taken goal by Themba Zwane enabled South Africa to beat their West African opponents, taking the Nelson Mandela Challenge trophy in the process.
Mali’s lone striker, Sekou Koita, ensured a tense final passage of play when he skipped past SA’s defence to pull one back for the visitors in the 75th minute.
Bafana Bafana had played Mali in competitive matches only twice, with the first meeting resulting in a 2-0 quarterfinal loss at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations. The other defeat was at the same Afcon stage in 2013, with Mali claiming a penalty victory after a 1-1 draw.
There was a 3-0 victory for SA in a warm-up match in Libreville before the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, but there was no trophy on the line then.
On Sunday there was silverware on offer and it was Ntseki’s troops who got to hold it aloft, thanks to a decent enough performance from the national side.
The national team had been struggling for game time after Zambia and Madagascar pulled out of scheduled friendlies in September due to the xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg.
Sunday’s game was Molefe Ntseki’s