Substitute Thabang Sibanyoni made the difference as his second-half goal earned Bafana Bafana a 1-0 win over 10-man Eswatini at Isaac Wolfson Stadium on the outskirts of Gqeberha on Thursday.
Sekhukhune United forward Sibanyoni poked home on 59 minutes to help Bafana claim maximum points again and dislodge Sihlangu from the top of Group A.
Just like in their opening match when Kagiso Malinga rose from the bench to score in the 1-0 win over Botswana, it was another substitute who made the difference for Bafana, whose defence is yet to be breached in this competition.
South Africa were led by Morena Ramoreboli again, standing in for Helman Mkhalele who is isolating.
For a second successive game, Bafana were depleted and had just four players on the bench but this time around they took advantage of Eswatini’s numerical disadvantage following a red card to captain Felix Badenhorst just before half-time.
Ramoreboli started made one change from the squad which edged Botswana 1-0 on Tuesday, starting Kagiso Malinga in place of Sekhukhune United’s Sibanyoni.
Eswatini had the TS Galaxy duo of captain Badenhorst and Justice Figuaredo as the most notable players.
On a windy afternoon in which movement of the ball was affected by the weather conditions, both teams struggled especially in a drab first half where very few opportunities were created.
Neither of the two goalkeepers Veli Mothwa, the Bafana captain, and Ncamiso Dlamini were ever called to make a save in the first half.
The wind saw stray passes being the order of the afternoon and the only realistic chance came three minutes before halftime when Badenhorst’s freekick went just over the bar from the edge of the box.
Eswatini were reduced to 10 men in the stoppage time of the first half when he kicked Sphelele Mkhulise in what was a second bookable offence.
The first-ever realistic chance of the match came three minutes into the second half when Figuaredo broke loose only to be faced by Mothwa who did well to thwart danger in a one-on-one situation.
Four minutes later, Eswatini came close again when Khethokuhle Mkhontfo headed just wide off a Figuaredo corner kick.
Just as Sihlangu appeared to be having the upper hand, Monnapule Saleng set up Sibanyoni, who beat Dlamini, with just five minutes on the pitch, to record his first international goal in two Bafana Caps.
It took only 17 minutes for Eswatini to really try and hit back when Sabelo Ndzinisa dispossessed Thabani Dube, but his shot was met by an alert Mothwa.
South Africa almost doubled their advantage with four minutes remaining but Malinga was a bit late to connect a Mkhulise through-ball, allowing Dlamini to close in and thwart danger.
Seconds later, Bafana thought they had won a penalty when Sihlangu Mkhwanazi appeared to have handled inside the box but the referee waved play on.
Eswatini then got what was their best chance of the match but substitute Phiwayinkosi missed with his head at point-blank range with Mothwa off his goal line.
That saw Bafana survive a scare and held on to record another victory ahead of their next match against Lesotho on Tuesday.
In another match played earlier on at the same venue, defending champions Zambia were stunned by Lesotho.
The Crocodiles of Lesotho came from behind as Bloemfontein Celtic forward Sera Motebang’s brace inside the final 20 minutes nullified Justin Shonga’s opener for Chipolopolo.
Fielding an almost full-strength squad which included the likes of Shonga, AmaZulu’s Augustine Mulenga, veteran goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene, SuperSport United attacker Gamphani Lungu, TP Mazembe’s Kabaso Chongo and Salulani Phiri, it was a surprise that Zambia lost.
It was their first game of the tournament and they anchor Group A ahead of their next match against Eswatini on Saturday.