Equatorial Guinea’s goalkeeper Jesus Owono was the hero as they stunned Mali in a penalty shootout to reach the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
Owono, 20, stopped two penalty shots in the shootout to help his team advance 6-5 on spot-kicks after a 0-0 draw.
The referee initially suggested that the crucial save from Falaye Sacko’s shot should be retaken, but a VAR review revealed that Owono’s foot remained on the line.
Equatorial Guinea will next face Senegal.
Mali, ranked 61 places higher than their opponents, had the better opportunities but were thwarted by another strong effort by Equatorial Guinea.
In a fast-paced but messy first half, Mali’s Amadou Haidara had the finest opportunity when the RB Leipzig star – who has been linked with a transfer to the Premier League – could only scuff a feeble close-range attempt.
Five minutes before halftime, the Eagles were given a penalty when Moussa Doumbia collided with Josete Miranda of Equatorial Guinea.
However, after seeing the event on the touchline monitor, referee Bakary Gassama changed his judgement.
Mali improved considerably in the second session, as Mohamed Camara of Red Bull Salzburg missed another chance in the 56th minute.
Camara grabbed the ball after excellent work on the right by Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma but shot over from close range.
Moussa Djenepo, a substitute, also came close to putting Mali ahead, but his thunderous shot was diverted just wide.
Equatorial Guinea, who handed reigning champions Algeria their first loss in 36 games in the group stage, seldom threatened at the opposite end.
However, former Middlesbrough and Birmingham defender Emilio Nsue came in as a substitute with an hour remaining and played a growing part for them.
He curled a shot over the crossbar in the dying stages of regular time and was a continuous threat to Mali’s defence in extra time.
When Basilio Ndong scored from afar, Mali goalkeeper Ibrahim Mounkouro was pushed into a remarkable stop.
However, one shot on goal from each club in 120 minutes of football told the tale, and it came down to penalties to determine who would advance to the final eight, where they would meet Sadio Mane and Co. in Douala on Sunday.
Nsue fired the first penalty over the bar, but Mali also missed via Massadio Haidara, and both keepers then made saves to force sudden death.
Sacko of Mali needed a goal to keep his side in the game, but Owono went low to make a wonderful save.
The celebrations were temporarily halted as the VAR review was conducted, but Equatorial Guinea – who reached the competition’s semi-finals in 2015 when they hosted the event – subsequently had their triumph validated.
It was a heartbreaking defeat for Mali, who had been the superior team throughout but failed to capitalize on their superiority and chances.