Cape Verde took a step closer to securing qualification for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with a narrow 1-0 victory over Eswatini at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, South Africa, on Tuesday afternoon.
Ryan Mendes's 56th-minute goal settled the Group B tie as the Blue Sharks extended their unbeaten run in the qualifiers to three games and went five points clear of the King's Shield in second place.
Eswatini were seeking their first win in qualifying to ensure they stayed in contention for a top-two finish, while Cape Verde had a chance to solidify their position in the group.
The Blue Sharks saw more of the ball in the first half but Dominic Kunene's side showed a greater attacking intent and created seven chances, although they only managed to hit the target once.
However, Ncamiso Dlamini had the first save to make on nine minutes when Garry Rodrigues lined up a shot from outside the box that the goalkeeper pushed around the post.
Lindo Mkhonta tried his luck from a long way out for the hosts on 37 minutes but his shot drifted just to the right of the goal, while Philani Mkhontfo tested Vozinha with a strike from the left side of the area in the 43rd minute.
Kwakhe Thwala was just inches away from breaking the deadlock two minutes later as he fired narrowly wide of the near post from inside the box on the left.
But the opener arrived at the other end nine minutes into the second half when Mendes beat Dlamini from inside the area to register his 13th goal for Cape Verde.
The King's Shield looked for a swift response and Sifiso Matse almost equalised three minutes later with a header from close range that flew just wide of the left post.
They continued to push for a way back into the contest as Siboniso Ngwenya forced Vozinha into a save with a shot from range on 70 minutes before Thwala also gave the keeper some work to do three minutes after getting off a shot from inside the area on the left and Matse missed the target on the follow-up.
Eswatini were presented with a golden opportunity to draw level on 79 minutes when Ivanildo Fernandes was penalised for handling inside the box but Sabelo Ndzinisa saw his spot-kick saved by Vozinha, who also denied Matse from distance moments later.
The hosts kept piling on the pressure in the closing stages and Sandile Gamedze drew a sharp save out of Vozinha in the 90th minute after getting his head onto Mkhonta's cross.
But the island nation held on to claim three precious points and open up a healthy gap to the Southern Africans with two matches left to play.
Eswatini (0) 0 Cape Verde (0) 1 (Mendes 56') Eswatini:
Cape Verde (0) 1 (Mendes 56')
Eswatini:Ncamiso Dlamini, L. Mkhonta, S. Mamba, S. Mkhwanazi, K. Thwala, F. Mamba (L. Manyisa 82'), S. Matse, S. Ngwenya, P. Mkhontfo (B. Matsebula 63'), S. Ndzinisa, Neliswa Dlamini (S. Gamedze 63').
Cape Verde: Vozinha, W. Semedo, Pico, I. Fernandes, Joao Paulo, K. Pina (Cuca 46'), D. Duarte (J. Monteiro 46'), R. Mendes (B. Teixeira 67'), T. Arcanjo, G. Rodrigues (Bebe 63'), G. Benchimol (D. Borges 83').