In the years immediately following on South Africa's readmission to FIFA, the country achieved considerable success. Orlando Pirates won the African Champions' Cup in 1995 and a year later *Bafana Bafana* were crowned African champions after beating Tunisia 2-0 in the final at Soccer City.
Since then, footballing triumphs have been few and far between and even though the country on the southern tip of Africa hosted a highly successful FIFA World Cup™ in 2010, fans were looking for more.
Their long wait finally came to an end on the weekend as the reigning Premier League champions Mamelodi Sundowns brought a second continental star home after beating Cairo giants Zamalek 3-1 on aggregate.
Goals by Anthony Laffor and Tebogo Langerman, as well as an own goal from Islam Gamal gave the 'Brazilians' a convincing 3-0 victory in the home leg, and although Zamalek managed to restore some pride with a 1-0 win in the return leg, it was not enough to deny the South African side.
For the Sundowns players, the success not only brought huge financial rewards as club owner and mining magnate Patrice Motsepe announced after the win that the players could keep the USD 1.5 million prize money, they also secured a place for themselves in the spotlight as they qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup** **Japan 2016 at the end of the year.
As the country's only other triumph in the competition came in 1995 – five years before the Club World Cup, Sundowns will be the first South African club to play on the global stage.
South Africans of all walks of life celebrated Sundowns' victory, with President Jacob Zuma being one of the first to congratulate the team. “It is indeed a glorious moment in South Africa and we congratulate Mamelodi Sundowns players, technical team and its entire management for representing us very well in this historically difficult continental championship and earned South Africa another star.
Maybe if we go through and play Real Madrid one day - because it is a dream - maybe we will park the bus there, not now.
“We are extremely proud of Sundowns for their remarkable achievement and we firmly believe that this excellent performance will take South Africa to higher levels in the international football fraternity,” the President said.
Just as the 1996 CAF Africa Cup of Nations success was celebrated not only by the football community, Sundowns received praise from a wide spectrum of athletes and coaches.
"We were travelling back from Kimberley on Sunday night, so I didn't get to watch the game, it was so nerve-wracking having to follow it on Twitter all the way. I'm just very happy for everyone at the club, for Pitso (Mosimane) and his coaching staff, big big congratulations. We've had Pirates win it a long time ago, so it's about time that trophy comes back to the country," Geoff Toyana, coach of the Highveld Lions cricket team, said.
*Japan 2016 challenge
*The President of the South African Football Association Danny Jordaan believes the 'Brazilians' have what it takes to proudly represent the continent in Japan. “This victory will serve South African football very well and will help in building a competitive Bafana Bafana side. South Africa stands tall on the African continent once again. Well done.
"I want to wish Sundowns all the best in their next assignment and I am confident they are up to the challenge.”
It is a challenge Mosimane relishes, promising after the final that there is only one scenario that would see them change their game plan. "We never park the bus, we went to ES Setif (Algeria) and never parked the bus, why should we park the bus now? We don't park the bus...we play! Maybe if we go through and play Real Madrid one day - because it is a dream - maybe we will park the bus there, not now."
Sundowns have been drawn against the winners of the quarter-final between the hosts' representatives and Auckland City, before a potential clash with Atletico Nacional. A final against Real Madrid could be on the cards if they win the two preceding games.
The importance of the win for South African football is an aspect football analyst Christopher Bongo highlighted. The former Congolese international, who lives in South Africa and works as a football analyst, said that he believed the victory is an important one for South Africa's self-belief.
“Since 2013 we have seen a steady progression. It was only in 2014 that there was no South African club in the group phases of the two competitions (Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup). Orlando Pirates were in the Champions League final in 2013, two years later in the final of the Confederation Cup and 2016 you now have Sundowns going on to win the Champions League.
“South Africa can now go on to dominate African club competitions. They have a well-organised league and play competitive matches week in, week out. It goes to show what they can achieve if they take playing in Africa seriously. They have to accept that the continent is a part of them. It is not them against us. If they accept that, the rest should be easy.”