JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South Africa launched a challenge for African Nations Cup redemption by outplaying minnows Niger 2-0 Saturday in the north-east city of Nelspruit.
Early and late first half goals from strikers Katlego Mphela and Bernard Parker saw Bafana Bafana (The Boys) secure maximum points from a Group G opener likely to prove the easiest of six qualifying games.
A visit to bogey team Sierra Leone in October will reveal more about the team who three months ago became the first World Cup hosts to be eliminated after the first round.
Local coach Pitso Mosimane replaced veteran Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreria after that tournament and vowed to take the 1996 African champions to the 2012 finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
With seven-time title holders Egypt in the same mini-league and only the table toppers guaranteed a tournament place, it is a tall order for former national team striker Mosimane.
After hosting and winning the Nations Cup, South Africa have steadily slipped from 1998 runners-up to three consecutive first round exits since 2004 and the humiliation of not even making it to Angola this year.
"We controlled the game and I am happy with the result which takes us to the top of the table. Anxiety and nervousness in front of goal cost us a wider winning margin," admitted Mosimane.
Everton midfielder and official man of the match Steven Pienaar echoed his coach: "It was disappointing that we did not score more goals, but I am happy with my form."
The vuvuzela may have been shown a 'red card' from European football body UEFA this week, but the plastic horn that droned to prominence during the World Cup was much in evidence at the 40,000-seat Mbombela Stadium.
South African supporters need little encouragement to celebrate and they witnessed an encouraging start as the team set out to break down the predictably hyper-cautious Central Africans.
Niger survived several scares and goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda needed treatment after taking an accidental knock when defender Bongani Khumalo tried to knock a loose ball into the net.
Mphela put Bafana Bafana ahead with a clinical finish on 12 minutes, racing on to a perfectly weighted Pienaar pass and touching the ball twice before chipping it over the onrushing goalkeeper.
The 27-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns striker craves a transfer overseas with Birmingham City and Glasgow Rangers reportedly showing interest and this top-drawer finish will do his prospects no harm.
Poor control robbed Mphela of a second goal as half-time approached with the ball running away from him and overworked Daouda cleared as Niger struggled to contain the lively home team.
And three minutes into first-half stoppage time South Africa doubled their advantage with Parker from Dutch champions Twente volleying an Anele Ngcongca cross into the corner of the net.
The second half followed a similar pattern to what had gone before with South Africa attacking continuously and Daouda from Cameroon club Cotonspoprt Garoua sparing the visitors a hiding through numerous fine saves.
|New deals for Moore, Schlupp|
|Litex Lovech 3 Veris 0 (3-0 agg): Bulgarians through to second round|
|Valencia loan Fede to Cordoba|
|Stoke closing in on Bojan|
|Inter still hopeful of Jovetic capture|
|Finalists dominate Golden Ball nominees|
|Celtic end Austria tour unbeaten|
|Rizzoli appointed World Cup final referee|
|Oier joins Granada|
|Escriba extends Elche agreement|
|Newcastle have agreement for Cabella, says Nicollin|
|Scolari: We have to move on|
|Roma complete Emanuelson deal|
|Alex pledges to improve Milan|
|Di Maria doing everything he can, says agent|
|Villa give Richardson a Premier League return|
|Sabella ´to step down´ after World Cup final|
|Van Gaal eyes ´unbeaten´ campaign|
|Suarez to take case to CAS|
|Germany have same spirit as in 1990, says Beckenbauer|
|´Quite clear Suarez wanted to leave´ - Liverpool fanzine|
|Southampton closing in on Pelle deal - Koeman|
|Suarez, Ronaldo, Bale and more: The Premier League talent drain|
|Augsburg capture Caiuby|
|Gerrard lauds departing Suarez|
|Andrade delighted at Benfica return|
|No Bony talks with Liverpool - Swansea|
|Lahm: Experience will be key|
|FIFA World Cup Preview: Brazil v Netherlands|
|Suarez departs Liverpool with ´heavy heart´|
|Liverpool did everything to keep Suarez - Rodgers|
|Suarez to sign for Barca|
|Boyce: Referees not told to be lenient|
|Sanchez reveals Wenger admiration|
|Flick staying secretive on Messi plans|
|Determined Dyche aims to complete more deals|
|Matri joins Genoa on loan|
|Valderrama talks up James potential|
|Aguero: Argentina are World Cup underdogs|
|Everton in talks over Traore return|
|Lambert tipped to prise open defences|
|Thauvin hails Bielsa impact at Marseille|
|Zico: Time for Scolari to go|
|Klopp eager for defensive improvement|
|Arsenal to run the rule over Fathi|
|Chamakh signs news Palace deal|
|Neville set to learn United fate|
|Fiorentina swoop for Brillante|
|Navas set to join Bayern|
|Neymar rejects agent´s anti-Scolari Twitter tirade|
|Allegri undecided on Italy job|
|Fernando idolises City team-mate Toure|
|Arteta: FA Cup will inspire Arsenal´s Premier League tilt|
|Evergrande confirm Gilardino signing|
|Howedes calls for team effort to stop Messi|
|Kuyt: Van Gaal can succeed at United|
|Argentina fined for player no-show|
|Neymar: ´I could be in a wheelchair´|
|Mascherano: I tackled doubts to block Robben|
|Zaccheroni: I leave Japan in a good spot|
|Aguero: Argentina ready to give everything|
|UEFA Europa League Review: Gothenburg leave it late, Sillamae stun Honka|
|Klose lauds Ronaldo after scooping record|
|Iran refute Susic claims|
|Fernandez named Deportivo boss|
|Argentina have no chance, says Robben|
|Hierro to replace Zidane as Real first-team coach|
|Rhodes signs new Rovers deal|
|Arsenal complete Sanchez swoop|
|Inzaghi backs under-fire Balotelli|
|Defeat has overshadowed display - Vlaar|
|Maradona: Germany full of themselves|
|Barry hoping for England recall|
|Green extends QPR stay|
|Shanghai Shenhua 1 Guangzhou Evergrande 2: Rong leaves it late in dramatic win|
|Germany hope for Brazilian support|
|Torino striker Cerci in demand|
|FIFA critcised following Mascherano incident|
|Bernat happy at Bayern despite bad memories|
|Giggs backs Van Gaal to thrive at Old Trafford|
|Tadic can fill Lallana void - Koeman|
|New five-year deal for Nasri|
|Barcelona release injury-hit Cuenca|
|Suarez appeal rejected|
|La Decima a reflection of Di Stefano - Perez|
|Buoyant Mazzarri eager for Inter success|
|Mandzukic joins Atletico|
|Van Gaal criticises third-place play-off|
|Halilhodzic yet to decide future|
|Mandzukic eager for Simeone link-up|
|Davies hoping for Hull deal|
|Poyet hopeful over Altidore fitness|
|Diego close to ´dream´ Fenerbahce move|
|Inter loan out youngsters|
|Fired-up Cole can inspire Villa, claims Lambert|
|Hughes hailed for winning over Brit doubters|
|Hajrovic signs for Bremen|
|Hull can buck Europa League trend, says Meyler|
|Mertesacker talks up German chances|
|Swansea reveal Tottenham contact over Davies, Sigurdsson|
|Lloris pens five-year deal at Tottenham|
|Fernandinho: ´The pain is big´|
|MLS Preview: Portland aim for swift revenge against Seattle|
|Sabella: Germany have an advantage|
|Second Argentine journalist dies in Brazil|
|Aguero: Argentina defied critics|
|Impressive Mascherano thrilled with final´s berth|
|Zuniga offered protection by Colombia|
|Germany vowed not to ´humiliate´ Brazil|
|Hong resigns from South Korea post|
|Third-choice Vlaar ´wasn´t nervous´|
|Van Gaal: I wanted Krul in the shootout|
|Argentina: Key factors in reaching the final|
|Sabella revels in semi-final win|
|Proud Robben feels pain of World Cup exit|
|FIFA World Cup: Netherlands 0 Argentina 0 (after extra time, 2-4 on penalties)|
|Susic signs two-year extension with Bosnia-Herzegovina|