BLOEMFONTEIN - A courageous South Africa and a disgraced France went out of the World Cup on Tuesday after the hosts beat the troubled 2006 runners-up 2-1 in their final Group A match to restore some pride.
The victory, with first-half goals from Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela, was not enough for South Africa to progress as Uruguay and Mexico finished in the top two places while France, who made several changes, suffered the ignominy of coming last.
South Africa became the first host nation to go out of the World Cup in the first round since the tournament began in 1930 but the Bafana Bafana departed with their heads held high and with the adoration of their fans undiminished.
Uruguay beat Mexico 1-0 in the other game in Rustenburg to finish on seven points with the Mexicans edging out South Africa on goal difference after both teams finished on four points.
France propped up the group with one point from three games. France's stuttering performance followed a players' revolt against coach Raymond Domenech which saw Nicolas Anelka sent home and captain Patrice Evra omitted from the team. The 1998 champions can expect a storm of protest when they get home.
The South Africans, on the other hand, played their hearts out and gave the fans lots to cheer at the Free State Stadium.
"I am proud of the boys. They made this country proud. They proved that they have made progress," South Africa's Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said.
The beleaguered Domenech tried to put a brave face on one of the most disastrous World cup campaigns ever mounted by a major football nation.
"I am sad for all of the fans and all those that supported the French team and all those who like the French team," he said. "I am in distress I am feeling the difficulties that we have all felt in the past few days."
South Africa started with great vigour in front of a 39,415 crowd while the French players looked like they would rather be strolling along the River Seine than playing the vibrant hosts.
The South Africans deservedly opened the scoring after 20 minutes when France keeper Hugo Lloris misjudged the ball at a corner and allowed Khumalo to lean in over Abou Diaby to score.
Five minutes later playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, until then about the only Frenchman to show any spirit, was controversially sent off when referee Oscar Ruiz of Colombia judged that he had elbowed MacBeth Sibaya in a goalmouth heading duel.
South Africa took advantage and the superb Katlego Mphela caught out the France defence in the 37th minute, bundling the ball over the line after a square pass from Tsepo Masilela.
Driven on by their passionate fans, and with Uruguay leading Mexico 1-0, South Africa sensed the possibility that they might just run up enough goals to qualify for the next round.
Mphela could have netted again five minutes into the second half when he ran onto a clever pass from Siphiwe Tshabalala but his shot grazed the post. More chances arrived and went begging with Steven Pienaar pulling the strings in midfield.
The French pairing of Diaby and Alou Diarra, captaining the side for the first time, was not working in their midfield and both were replaced as France tried to get back into the game.
With forward Thierry Henry coming off the bench, France pulled a goal back after 70 minutes when a dogged Franck Ribery set up an easy tap-in for substitute Florent Malouda.
It was a goal that broke South African hearts and effectively ended their participation in the first World Cup in Africa. Coach Parreira will now step down as planned for family reasons but said he would always remember his boys with pride.
"I feel at home here. In my heart deeply I will always remember this country. These boys, what they did for me in preparation they were unbelievable," he told a news conference.
"I just want to say thank you to these people," added Parreira, who coached Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning side.
The French players had refused to train on Sunday in protest at Anelka being sent home for swearing at Domenech ad not apologising and Tuesday's defeat completed their most wretched overall showing at a major tournament.
"This is not the time to analyse what happened," said Domenech. "The France team will never die. They will carry on."
He would not shake hands with Parreira at the end of the match having accused him of offending the French team according to the Brazilian coach who denied having done so.
"This game was a real catastrophe," added French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot. "We are very disappointed and I am going home very sad, with a heavy heart. We expected this defeat. In some ways it was inevitable."