A late Cheick Diabate goal gave Mali hope after Eric Mouloungui had opened the scoring, but penalties favored the west Africans as they qualified for the semifinal.
Eric Mouloungui struck for the Gabonese before Cheick Diabate leveled to send the match to spot kicks, but it was the Panthers who dominated most parts of the game with chances going to waste.
Gabon cult hero Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's attempt was saved by goalkeeper Soumbeyla Diakite during the shootout, giving the Eagles an advantage. Barcelona player Seidou Keita was the hero of the night at the Stade d'Angondje with his final kick which gave the 1972 runner-up a ticket to the semifinal.
It was a miserable night for the co-host as the team looked forward to booking its first ever semifinal after having gone at length to score, but the club could not find the breakthrough until the first half elapsed. The first real attempt on goal came when Aubameyang beat an offside trap and lobbed the ball past Diakite, but hit the woodwork instead of the intended target.
It was a half devoid of genuine scoring opportunities with the few that were created coming the way of Gabon. However, both teams had a goal each in the second half to move the game into extra time.
Midfielder Eric Mouloungui put Gabon in the lead in the second half when Aubameyang pulled the ball back from the byline from a free kick, finding the left foot of Mouloungui whose tap in beat shot-stopper Diakite.
The Gabonese kept pressing in all departments to protect their lead before an anxious partisan crowd, but that did not last long as Diabate put Mali back on level terms with six minutes left in the encounter.
Modibo Maiga set Diabate up and the player controlled the ball well, turned and struck a shot past goalkeeper Didier Ovono. The Eagles suffered a great deal of pressure from a spirited Panthers side, but the leveler neutralized the pressure and forcing the game into extra time – the first of the 28th edition of the Nations Cup.
The scoreline remained the same throughout extra time, sending the game to a penalty shootout. The spot kicks ended 4-5 in Mali’s favor after Aubameyang had his attempt saved and Keita scored the winning penalty.
The Eagles will now face the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in the semifinal on Wednesday.