LUSAKA, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Captain Aaron Mokoena scored with a first half header to hand South Africa a morale-boosting 1-0 win away against Zambia in their African Nations Cup qualifier on Sunday.
The defender, restored to the captaincy, rose to head home a free kick from Delron Buckley in the 28th minute.
The result was the first home defeat in Lusaka in more than two decades for the Zambians in Nations Cup qualifiers.
World Cup 2010 hosts South Africa, watched by future coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, revived their chances in the qualifiers for the 2008 finals in Ghana after a surprise draw at home in their first qualifier last month.
Mokoena's goal was his first in 58 international appearances and came as a timely lift for South Africa, whose poor run of recent form has seen them slip dramatically in the FIFA rankings.
The visitors missed several other chances for a more convincing victory but also had goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez to thank for securing the points.
Fernandez made a point blank stop two minutes from the end to deny Zambia's striker Collins Mbesuma.
Zambia produced a late flurry in search of an equaliser against their tired opponents on a hot afternoon but failed to breach a tight defence.
South Africa squandered two chances through left winger Simphiwe Tshabalala and twice saw Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene deny MacBeth Sibya, the Russian-based midfielder restored to the South African side after a two-year absence.
'It was a good game for South Africa, we really needed this one,' said Mokoena.
'It was a big thrill to score. I had to show people I deserved to play in the national team,' he added in a reference to missing the Nations Cup finals in Egypt earlier this year.