CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The World Cup returned to South Africa at the weekend but few seemed interested as the euphoria of hosting the 2010 finals looked all but forgotten against the backdrop of a near-empty stadium.
Despite fielding virtually the same team that competed two years ago at the highest level of the world game, the home side struggled to a 1-1 draw against Ethiopia, 71 places below them in the FIFA rankings.
Only 5,000 bothered to turn up at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg, which two years ago was filled with crowds of more than 30,000 for World Cup matches.
The result and attendance made it a disappointing start to the country's bid to qualify for the 2014 finals as the momentum of hosting the World Cup continues to slip away.
"The poor crowds are tied to our performances. We have to turn that around and we have six months in which to do so," South African Football Association chief executive officer Robin Petersen told Reuters via telephone on Monday.
In six months the country hosts the 2013 African Nations Cup finals and apathy towards the national team, Bafana Bafana, is the source of much concern.
Last year, a disastrous error by coach Pitso Mosimane, who failed to read the competition rules, botched qualification for the 2012 Nations Cup finals and led to further criticism.
South Africa lost out after playing for a draw in their final match because they thought goal difference was the deciding factor when actually they needed to win as head-to-head record was the tiebreaker.
Mosimane, groomed under Brazilian World Cup winner Carlos Alberto Parreira for three years, has been a beleaguered figure since, fortunate to stay in his job and under increasing pressure.
It was exacerbated on Sunday by a mediocre performance in which South Africa had to claw their way back from a goal down to draw with Ethiopia -- a nation which has only ever won away from home once in four decades of World Cup qualification.
"We don't want to accept reality, things have not been going well since we won the 1996 Nations Cup but we are not changing the formula," Mosimane told reporters afterwards.
"We have a problem but we still keep going the same way. We don't want to accept that we can't score goals. We don't want to accept that our development programmes are not good."
Bafana Bafana now face neighbours Botswana in their next World Cup qualifier away in Gaborone on Saturday.
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)