Mali beat hosts South Africa on penalties to qualify for the African Cup of Nations semi-finals after a 1-1 draw at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
The hosts took a deserved lead through Tokelo Rantie, but he went off injured soon afterwards and Mali came back into it, levelling through talismanic captain Seydou Keita as the hour mark approached.
Neither side seemed concerned with finding a winner in the rest of normal and extra time, with penalties used to settle the contest.
The pressure seemed to get to the hosts, who missed four of five penalties, as Mali netting all of theirs.
A cagey opening quarter-hour saw South Africa control possession and Mali sit deep, with Mamadou Samassa their only forward outlet.
The match burst into life just before the quarter-hour when May Mahlangu headed wide from a good position, with the same player almost handing Rantie an opening goal but for fine goalkeeping by Soumbeila Diakite, preferred to the other Mamadou Samassa between the Mali posts.
Reneilwe Letsholonyane had been brought in by Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund, and he was a lively presence in midfield, beating two men to set up Rantie, who was denied by a fine Adama Tamboura block.
Mali were sat deep but Tamboura did get forward from left-back, almost swinging a cross-shot in past Itumeleng Khune. But the home side had been by far the more positive and deserved their opener just after the half hour.
It had come from a Mali free-kick, with a rapid counter seeing Thuso Pala’s run wreak havoc in a backtracking defence: he found Rantie unmarked, the Malmo striker ramming home an easy finish.
Rantie’s match did not last much longer, a thigh injury it evening short as Mali improved going into half-time: there were chances for Samassa, Samba Sow and Sigamary Diarra, but some good blocks by Bongani Khumalo and Dean Furman kept South Africa in front.
Rantie’s injury had a game-changing impact, it seemed, as Mali retained the momentum into the second half, starting promisingly as they put the pressure on South Africa.
But the hosts should have doubled their lead when Rantie’s replacement Lehlohonolo Majoro beat the offside trap to race on goal: his touch was poor though, and Diakite claimed.
They paid for that seconds later when Keita exploited dreadful marking by Khumalo to ghost in unmarked and head home off Khune. The cross by Samassa was brilliant, but Khumalo had stopped running, perhaps deceived by the bend on the ball or unaware of Keita’s late run.
The pendulum had swung and, with South Africa looking a combination of fatigued and nervous, Mali were cutting them to shreds, Samassa guilty of a weak finish when a reckless pass from Tsepo Masilela played him in on goal.
South Africa regrouped and the improvement was marked, as Samassa once again started to look isolated up front, while there was more pressure from the home side.
They were cancelling each other out though, with chances rare, and most attempts on goal speculative.
The latter stages of normal time saw South Africa search for a winner, but some dangerous deliveries from wide failed to connect with targets and both sides took fewer risks with extra time beckoning.
As the match fizzled out, there were late attacking changes with the additional half-hour in mind, South Africa introducing Ajax playmaker Thulani Serero, Mali bringing Bordeaux target man Cheick Diabate into play.
Those changes had little impact, with the two risk-averse sides doing everything they could to avoid conceding, with attacking play an afterthought at best and mostly restricted to set-pieces.
As with the latter stages of normal time, this appeared to be a prelude to the inevitable shoot-out. Mali got to last year’s semis on penalties, and they repeated the trick thanks mostly to incompetence from the spot from their opponents.
Substitute Siphiwe Tshabalala started things well enough for Bafana Bafana, sending Diakite the wrong way, but that was as good as it got for the hosts as they wilted under pressure.
Diabite, Tamboura and Alain Traore netted all their efforts with ease, but Furman and Mahlangu’s finishes were weak and well-saved by Diabate.
The final spot-kick was Majoro’s, and his was the worst of all as he rifled it a few yards wide to send Mali’s players into delirium.
The stadium fell silent as South Africa went out unable to repeat their heroics of 1996, when they hosted and won the finals on their first appearance in the tournament.