Upbeat end for Bafana Bafana
South Africa's players left Bloemfontein's Free State Stadium on Tuesday feeling enormous pride rather than dismay at creating unwanted history.
They gave a terrific display when beating an admittedly bedraggled French side 2-1 to avoid becoming the first World Cup hosts to never win a game.
And though they did become the first hosts to miss out on qualifying for the second phase, a visit from South Africa President Jacob Zuma revived their spirits.
"In the dressing room, we were very disappointed but the president came in and told us the nation is proud of us," said Siphiwe Tshabalala. "Most of us had never played at such a high level before, but we finished on a high and showed great determination."
Siphiwe Tshabalala took heart from a dressing room visit from South Africa President Jacob Zuma
They did indeed, but the Bafana Bafana squad - largely made up of Premier Soccer League players - may forever wonder what might have happened had they exhibited the same sort of character, commitment and drive against Uruguay as they did against the French.
South Africa's lack of fight against the Uruguayans resulted in a 95th-minute goal for their South American opponents and a 3-0 defeat. Had they only lost 2-0, they would only have needed to beat France by three goals - something that may have changed their cautious approach late on on Tuesday.
"After Malouda's goal, we were under pressure so I felt I did the right thing in trying to slow the game down," says Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs.
Some will disagree, arguing South Africa should have chased the relevant goals regardless.
There are other 'what ifs' as well - namely Katlego Mphela's two strikes against the woodwork, first against Mexico in the 90th minute and then early in the second half versus the French.
Some of Carlos Alberto Parreira's changes worked so well against the 1998 World Cup winners that you had to question why they had not been implemented before - most notably the excellent display from MacBeth Sibaya, who broke up the opponents' play far more impressively than Kagiso Dikgacoi had ever done.
Without the ponderous and wasteful Teko Modise, South Africa finally showed the world they can play with pace and purpose, too. Steven Pienaar was more influential on his return to the flanks while Mphela was far happier alongside a second striker.
Although these are decisions that could and should have been made earlier in the tournament, it is hard to criticise Parreira overall. The Brazilian took charge of a side that had lost eight in nine and turned it into one that went unbeaten for all but one of his 15 internationals.
All the while, he was battling the chronic inertia of South African football, with developmental plans dreamt up by previous coaches to help guarantee a successful World Cup wholly ignored.
"When I arrived, I told Safa (South Africa Football Association) the key was to prepare for 2010," says Englishman Stuart Baxter, who led South Africa between 2004-2005. "So I presented to parliament a plan incorporating coaching, upgrading facilities, a national academy and a talent identification programme.
"As soon as I mentioned the identification programme, they said we had one. The same for the academy, even though there weren't really any. The MPs also became hood-winked and said the money didn't need to be spent."
The South Africa vuvuzuelas will play on regardless
Nonetheless, Parreira fashioned a credible unit out of history's lowest-ranked World Cup hosts - South Africa's 83rd place worse than the United States (23rd) in 1994 and Japan and South Korea (32nd and 40th respectively) in 2002.
While Bafana Bafana departed football's greatest stage with their heads held high, missing out on a place in the last 16 on goal difference, the French could barely scurry away fast enough.
It is hard to recall a World Cup campaign from a major nation as disastrous as France's.
"The mood in camp before the game was sad and cold," muttered France midfielder Abou Diaby. "I feel sorry for the French people."
And coach Raymond Domenech's wholesale changes seemingly revealed some of the camp's major fissures - with Eric Abidal and rebellious captain Patrice Evra among those dropped.
Departing after six often bizarre years in the job, Domenech ensured his final act kept up with some previous ones, refusing to shake Parreira's hand in protest at the Brazilian's decision to question France's right to be in South Africa following Thierry Henry's handball against play-off opponents Ireland.
Although the 1998 World Cup victory may now seem like ancient history for French fans, some South Africans remember it vividly.
"I was 11 when I watched France in 1998 so to score against them was just a dream," says impressive defender Bongani Khumalo. "To be part of the World Cup has been a magical experience."
And it is that sense of magic, for a team which has been in freefall since winning the Nations Cup in 1996, which Bafana Bafana's players says they will never forget.
"What an experience, especially for our fans who've been behind us through thick and thin," says Josephs. "The passion they showed when driving us forward against France is what South Africa is all about and that will be a lasting memory for all my life."
Whether South Africa build on these promising foundations is a moot point but Tuesday's victory has ensured their fans can wear their Bafana jerseys with pride - so ensuring the carnival atmosphere of this unique World Cup continues until 11 July.