The big news prior to kick-off was the absence from the starting line-up of Steven Pienaar, who had been declared fit by the Bafana technical team in the build-up to the match.
Coach Joel Santana seemed more worried about losing than going for the win, and but for some glorious second-half chances, his side gave a poor display.
The best of the chances fell to substitute Katlego Mashego and Kagisho Dikgacoi, who had the ball cleared off the line by his own man late in the game.
Terror Fanteni collected a booking inside two minutes for a wild lunge on Karrar Jasim, forcing a lengthy stoppage while the Iraqi was treated. The same Jasim had the first shot of the game from 25 yards, but it was straight into the arms if Itumeleng Khune.
The Asian champions then had a couple of dangerous corners as Khune remained rooted to his line and the defence struggled to clear.
Bernard Parker had South Africa’s first shot on goal, albeit a tame one, as he was put into space after a fine tackle from Macbeth Sibaya, who then produced a blistering shot from 30-yards to force a fine save from Mohammed Kassid.
But South Africa were tentative early on; too many miss-hit passes, too many balls into the wrong area of the pitch. It was a nervy display that was starting to draw groans from the crowd. Luckily for the home side, the Iraqis were not any better.
Dikgacoi gave away a free-kick 30-yards out that looked dangerous with FC Twente midfielder Nashat Akram lining it up, but it was straight into the wall and that kind of summed up the game to that point.
Parker again tried his luck from 25-yards after some good build-up play, but his shot was once more weak and wide. It did have one effect though as Iraq goalkeeper Kassid appeared to turn over on his ankle while shepparding the ball wide, leading to another delay, which allowed Santana and his Iraqi counterpart Bora Milutinovic to trade insults on the sidelines.
And so came to an end a first half that was less than inspiring; the negative tactics of both coaches too afraid to lose rather than go for the win, giving supporters little joy.
Bafana had an early chance in the second half when Gaxa was brought down on the right-hand edge of the area, but the delivery from Teko Modise for the free-kick was poor and Iraq cleared.
Parker then fired in a low angled shot straight at Kassid after excellent work from Fanteni as the home side began the second period brightly.
Yet still, after no goal in the first 15 minutes of the second half, the crowd began calling for Santana to make a substitution, as the patience of the Ellis Park faithful with the pedestrian passing game of his side wore thin.
A succession of set-pieces followed for the home side, but the delivery from either Modise or Gaxa was poor on each occasion, allowing the Iraqis to easily clear. Modise also had a shot that he sailed high and wide.
Bafana should have been ahead when Fanteni got to the ball first from a corner, but he couldn’t keep his header down and it flew over the bar. Santana finally made a change with 12 minutes to go when he brought on Katlego Mashego for Fanteni.
And Mashego had the best chance of the game inside the first minute he was on the pitch when he was released by a long goal-kick, but when one-on-one with the keeper could not beat Kassid.
Parker twisted and turned in the area to create a chance for himself, but his shot with his weaker right foot was easy for the keeper.
But just how the side didn’t score with seven minutes remaining will forever remain a mystery.
Gaxa’s long ball to the back post was missed by Kassid and Dikgacoi’s header was goal-bound towards an empty net before it hit Parker on the back of the legs and was cleared.
Santana brought on Pienaar straight afterwards for Parker, but perhaps Bafana knew it would not be their night when Modise initiated a quick break-away, and with players streaming left and right, stumbled over his own feet and lost possession.