Seydou Keita's perseverance brought Mali a 1-0 win over Niger when the skipper pounced on a late goalkeeper mistake to give his troubled West African nation the first victory of the tournament.
The Group B match was heading for the fourth straight draw of the African Cup before Keita poked home after Niger goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda spilled a cross in the midst of a bunch of players in the 84th minute.
After the game, Keita wore a white t-shirt with the words "Peace for Mali" spelled out in red letters in French when he received his man of the match award. The slogan was in reference to the ongoing conflict in his homeland.
Niger had been resilient at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but Mali had earlier chances to win as Keita's fierce drive in the 54th minute was just saved by Daouda and he then hit the crossbar in the 77th with a left foot curler from near the edge of the area - this time with Niger's goalkeeper beaten.
Mali's hard fought and late win now puts them top of Group B after one of the pre-tournament favorites, Ghana, blew a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Congo in the first game in Port Elizabeth on Sunday. The countries meet next in a familiar rivalry having played each other twice at the 2012 African Cup - and with a place in the quarterfinals in 2013 in the balance.
"We all know that we have to make a fantastic game against Ghana," Mali coach Patrice Carteron said. "If we can make it (win) we know we will be qualified. Mentally we have to be strong." Earlier Congo came back from two goals down to claim a draw against Ghana at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Emmanuel Agyemang Badu's finely-worked strike late in the first half and Albert Adomah's header in the second half put Ghana in control, but Tresor Mputu replied in the 53rd minute before Dieumerci Mbokani's penalty 20 minutes from time.
Congo Coach Claude LeRoy said: "My players deserve this."
Yesterday's results (Group B)
Ghana 2-2 Congo
Mali 1-0 Niger
Today's fixtures (Group C)
Zambia v Ethiopia (3pm, Eurosport)
Nigeria v Burkina Faso (6pm, ITV 4)