Cape Town - A goal in each half lifted Bafana Bafana to a vital 2-0 win over the Central African Republic (CAR), as they climbed top of Group A in their World Cup qualifying match at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night.
Bafana, though dominant, were anything but clinical in front of goal early on, and it took a 33rd minute long-range screamer from Thabo Matlaba to give the home side the advantage.
The hosts took a real blow just minutes after the opening strike when Dean Furman went down in the Bafana box after a challenge. The medical staff strapped his head and he left the field, with Kagisho Dikgacoi coming on in his place.
With the midfield lacking in penetration in the second half, it took a well-weighted pass from substitute Siphiwe Tshabalala to set up Bernard Parker for the second goal.
Captain Itumeleng Khune also pulled off two crucial saves to deny the visitors.
South Africa moved to five points from three matches, with Ethiopia, one point behind, squaring off against bottom-placed Botswana in Addis Ababa on Sunday.
The visitors had the opening shot of the match in the first minute, but Eloge Enza-Yamissi's shot was not well directed.
Two minutes later, Bafana made their first foray into their opponents' area. The cross came in from May Mahlangu, but it was directed straight into the arms of Geoffrey Lembet in the CAR goal.
A great ball from Reneilwe Letsholonyane released Tokelo Rantie in the box in the sixth minute, and after stepping past a defender, he had the keeper backpedalling. Rantie missed a clear-cut chance, however, when he scuffed the ball across the face of goal.
Furman, with a looping ball into the box, found Rantie in the 12th minute, but he could not keep the ball down as his shot sailed over the crossbar.
Another sharp chance was spurned by the hosts in the 17th minute. A Matlaba header from close range did not challenge the CAR 'keeper after a good attack.
The best chance of the half for the visitors came four minutes later when Foxi Kethevoama went for goal from range, and his fierce shot required a diving save from Khune in the Bafana goal.
CAR had an opportunity in the box soon after, but Josue Balamandi, with time and space to turn, shot wide.
Bafana opened the scoring with a sensational strike in the 33rd minute. From 35m, Matlaba unleashed a long-range stunner to put South Africa ahead.
In the 51st minute, Khune pulled off another top save and Enza-Yamissi took a free-kick from 25m out and the Bafana 'keeper had to dive at full stretch to his left to keep his side ahead.
Vivien Mabide put the ball in the back of the net three minutes later for CAR, but the goal was disallowed for a handball by the player.
Mahlangu went close shortly after the hour mark but his shot on the edge of the area saw Lembet get his fingertips to the strike and deflect the ball onto the woodwork.
Tshabalala provided a perfect pass for Parker with 20 minutes left, and the striker confidently strode into the box, depositing the ball into the back of the net to pocket three points for the hosts.
Itumeleng Khune (captain), Bennett Nthethe, Anele Ngcongca, Morgan Gould, Thabo Matlaba, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Dean Furman, Bernard Parker, Thuso Phala, May Mahlangu, Tokelo Rantie.
Central African Republic:
Geoffrey Lembet, Kelly Youga, Salif Keita, Eloge Enza-Yamissi (captain), Romaric Lignanzi, Josue Balamandi, Fox Kethevoama, Francklin Anzite, Manasse Enza-Yamissi, David Manga, Nicaise Zimbori.