Tournament debutant Cape Verde dampened South Africa's spirits at the African Cup of Nations by holding the host to 0-0 in the rain in the opening game on Saturday.

The inexperienced Cape Verde players defied Bafana Bafana and a big home crowd at Soccer City with a mature, resilient performance to earn a draw and a point in Group A - and probably had the best chances.

First, when Helson Ramos screwed a shot wide of the right post when clear in the area in the 15th minute. Ramos, again, forced Itumeleng Khune into a scrambling save with his diving header in the 72nd that nearly caused a far worse result for South Africa at the start of its second big football party in three years.

''I'm happy with the performance of the team,'' Cape Verde coach Luico Antunes said. ''It'll make Cape Verde's 500,000 people happy. Today, I can hold my head up high.''

Conversely, South Africa's lackluster form under coach Gordon Igesund continued and underlined fears the host could make even less of an impact at its African Cup than it did in its World Cup in 2010. Bafana Bafana had hardly any goalscoring chances in a stuttering, unimaginative start.

''The guys were very, very nervous out there,'' Igesund said. ''I've never seen them like this.''

Cape Verde's Ramos and forward Ryan Mendes looked more dangerous than South Africa's attack in patches, and Igesund cut a nervous, under-pressure figure pacing up and down the sideline as he watched his players fail dismally to break down a team that had no experience of the big occasion.

''It (the result) means that our team has been well organized,'' Antunes said. ''Not conceding goals makes the team more confident.''

Lehlohonolo Majoro's pullback for fellow forward Bernard Parker 10 minutes into the second half briefly lifted South Africa's 80,000-plus fans and was its best of few attacks, but the ball was scrambled away. The South African supporters blew desperately on their vuvuzelas in response and launched into a Mexican wave in an attempt to get Bafana Bafana going in the second half.

But even Siphiwe Tshabalala, the dread-locked midfielder who lit up the opening game at the World Cup for South Africa three years ago, couldn't inspire the home team. He curled a left-footed free kick straight into the arms of Josimar Dias in Cape Verde's goal in his only meaningful contribution in the first 45 and was substituted early in the second.

South Africa's midfield faded, leaving its forward line with little to work with.

''The first half was a complete waste of 45 minutes,'' Igesund said. ''We got a point. I don't think we deserve too much more than that, to be honest.''

Thuso Phala won a free kick for South Africa in a good position way back in the second minute but nothing came of it and the Cape Verdeans settled and grew in confidence while South Africa grew more desperate.

The home team heads to Durban to meet Angola on Wednesday and under more pressure from its expectant fans for a victory. Cape Verde plays Morocco next.

''Obviously we would have loved a winning start to set the tone,'' South Africa captain Bongani Khumalo said. ''There's another big game on Wednesday.''