More than 50,000 turned out at the Olympic Stadium to bid farewell to the Socceroos before they depart for the finals but the home side struggled to break down a Bafana Bafana team weakened even from that which went out in the second round of African qualifying.
Both the goals came inside a minute early in the first half with Ayanda Patosi's 13th minute effort for South Africa cancelled out by Australia's stand-in captain and leading international goalscorer Tim Cahill.
With world champions Spain, 2010 runners-up the Netherlands and Chile lying in wait in Group B in Brazil, Australia would have been hoping for a different conclusion to the evening than the slow handclap that rang around stadium towards the end of the match.
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou was always up against it with just eight months to bring fluency to his young team before Australia's third successive World Cup finals campaign and it showed in the largely ragged performance.
Postecoglou was pleased with the bright start to the match and thought the lack of coherence as the match wore on was a result of the work the players had put in at the training camp that preceded the match.
"I can't really criticise the players," he told reporters. "We worked them really hard for 10 days and I think they struggled physically after an encouraging 20-25 minutes. "We've overworked them for a reason. How much of that was fatigue and how much because they didn't get the gameplan, only time will tell."
South Africa opened the scoring after striker Tokelo Rantie drove at the heart of the defence at pace and, when his progress was stopped, got the ball back for Ayanda Patosi to slide it into the net.
Australia's response was immediate and it was no surprise that it came from the head of Cahill, who rose above goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa to steer Tommy Oar's ballooned cross into the net for his 32nd goal in his 68th appearance for his country.
South Africa grew in confidence and had the better of the second half with what rhythm Australia had mustered disrupted by the inevitable string of substitutions, although Oliver Bozanic's looping header nearly stole the win for the home side.
Postecoglou will cut three players from his 30-man provisional squad on Tuesday before the remainder fly to South America and one is certain to be central defender Curtis Good, who has a hip injury.
Australia open their campaign in Brazil against Chile on June 13 in Cuiaba before playing the Netherlands on June 18 and Spain on June 23. "We believe we're heading in the right direction," Postecoglou said, adding: "It is what it is ...".
- Sports & Recreation
- South Africa
- Bafana Bafana
- Tim Cahill
- Ange Postecoglou