South Africa started and finished the match well in a 3-1 Africa Cup of Nations warm-up win over non-qualifiers Malawi at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday.
Goals from Lehlohonolo Majoro and Siphiwe Tshabalala gave the host country of the January 19-February 10 tournament a two-goal lead within 10 minutes in ideal conditions.
But a Malawi team eliminated by Ghana in the final qualifying round for the 2013 Africa Cup controlled much of the second half after Josephy Kamwendo halved the deficit from a penalty kick just after half-time.
Another penalty, 15 minutes from time, settled the outcome with James Sangala charging recklessly into an opponent and substitute May Mahlangu sending goalkeeper Simplex Nthala the wrong way.
"We took our foot off the pedal for much of the second half and looked tired and sluggish before regaining control in the closing stages," said South Africa coach Gordon Igesund.
South Africa name a 23-man Africa Cup squad next Sunday and play Norway in Cape Town on January 8 and fellow qualifiers Algeria in Soweto four days later before opening the tournament against debutants Cape Verde Islands.