Even before the final whistle had been blown last night, there was a third country that was at least as big a winner. Defying all the doom-mongers, South Africa pulled off a triumphant World Cup that was a first for the continent and distilled the best of this footballing festival. The one disappointment was the number of empty seats in the early rounds, for which Fifa alone bears responsibility. This dispiriting sight must be avoided in Brazil in four years' time.
South Africa, for its part, rose to the – considerable – challenge. The venues were completed in time. Visitors were made welcome and enjoyed themselves. Fears that tourists could fall victim to the country's high incidence of crime were soon shown to be unfounded. Indeed, crime actually fell. It may be unrealistic to hope that the new spirit will become permanent, but it shows what a combination of efficient policing and a month of major sporting events can do.
The country now has an international success that, 20 years after the end of apartheid, every South African can take pride in. Its new task will be to translate this sense of achievement and common nationhood into something more lasting. It will not be easy, but it suddenly looks more possible than it did four weeks ago.
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