Johannesburg - Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Darren Keet says Senzo Meyiwa's influence throughout the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers had far reaching effects on the national team, who played in memory of their fallen former skipper.
"It was a sad period of course but for us as footballers and friends of Senzo we had the motivation to get through it," Keet said shortly after South Africa arrived home via Lagos, Nigeria, after their 2-2 draw on Wednesday evening.
Keet was entrusted with the unenviable task of replacing Meyiwa, who was shot and killed in Gauteng last month, for the last two Afcon qualifiers against Sudan and Nigeria.
South Africa let their 2-1 advantage slip three minutes into added-time as Nigeria salvaged a draw at the Akwa Ibom Stadium in Uyo, but the result mattered little for Keet and the team, who had already secured qualification to next year's tournament before their clash with the Super Eagles.
An emotional Keet, playing in only his third international after biding his time behind Meyiwa and Itumuleng Khune, paid tribute to Meyiwa, whom he said would have loved to see the team safely through to the tournament in Equatorial Guinea next year.
"We knew he was always behind us. The strongest thing is that he was looking down on us and everyone knew that -- no matter what we did, we did it for him.
"The strength in that would be to carry it on for him and to continue the spirit that he left in the team, to carry this country forward. For him, it was a goal to take the country to the next level and it's best for us to continue that for him."
South Africa finished top of group A with 12 points having finished the group unbeaten in six qualifiers. Keet admitted it was a rare feat in the modern age to see teams complete a qualification campaign unscathed.
"There's been a real change of heart for the love of Bafana Bafana again. Going through the six matches unbeaten is a great achievement. We've managed to qualify with a game in hand and that's a great way to go forward into the Afcon.
"We look forward to great things from this team. We will appreciate all the support the people give us."
Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba revealed that Keet had been handed the man-of-the-match award for his efforts in helping South Africa come within a whisker of beating Nigeria for the first time ever in a competitive fixture.
"Mr. Keet saved us from an avalanche (of attacks)," Mashaba said.