|Ze Kalanga clashes with Hassan Yebda as both sides get the required result [AFP]
Angola and Algeria reached the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations as their nil-nil draw in Luanda eliminated Mali despite their 3-1 win over Malawi.
Mali's defeat to Algeria earlier in the tournament meant their goal difference over the North Africans counted for nothing as the two finished level in Group A on four points.
Angola qualify in first place with five while Malawi, who topped the group after the first round of matches after beating Algeria 3-0, finish bottom.
With a place in the quarter-finals at stake for both teams in Luanda the match opened at a heart-pounding tempo, even though news that Frederic Kanoute and Seydou Keita had scored for Mali in the first three minutes in Cabinda had already spread round the November 11 stadium.
Algeria, needing to avoid defeat, almost made things interesting with eight minutes on the clock.
Portsmouth's Nadir Belhadj tried a trick in his own penalty area, only to clumsily drag the ball into the path of Angola's pacey midfielder Djalma, who delayed his shot just long enough for the left back to recover and block.
Karim Matmour was the first player into South African referee Jerome Damon's book for a shirt tug on Angola left winger Gilberto, who flashed a shot just wide seconds later from Manucho's hold-up.
With no Flavio in the side, most of Angola's threat was coming from long range efforts and set plays, with Mabina and Gilberto again both going close from distance without seriously troubling Faouzi Chaouchi.
Algeria should have gone 1-0 up on 22 minutes as Madjid Bougherra forced Fernandes Carlos into a close-range save after a cross from Belhadj, who tried his luck from his own half a minute later with the Angolan keeper backpedalling.
Angola were getting closer with their own pot-shots and Chaouchi had to make a flying save at his top left hand corner after a 30-yard free kick from Ze Kalanga - in the side ahead of benched tournament top-scorer Flavio - 26 minutes in.
The hosts continued to attack, carving Algeria wide open with two minutes of the half left only for Djalma to scuff his shot and allow Chaouchi to parry away, before Ze Kalanga fired over from a tight angle with seconds to spare.
Mali's score against Malawi caused some nerves for the hosts as they needed to ensure the difference between Mali's winning goals and their own goals conceded in the case of defeat didn't get higher than three - a symptom of simple goal difference having been dispensed in deciding points ties in the group stages.
"In the second half Angola didn't push us so we saved ourselves for the next match. The more games we play before the World Cup, the better for us"
Madjid Bougherra, Algeria defender
And they could have faced that very scenario three minutes after the restart, as Hameur Bouazza's flashing ball across the box was just missed by Karim Matmour.
Defender Santos Zuela was injured challenging Matmour and was replaced by Dias Caires five minutes into the half.
As the noise level rose at the November 11 stadium Ze Kalanga burst free again only to fire into the side netting, before Algeria had their third clear-cut chance of the match.
Matmour ran at the huge figure of Dias Caires, slipping in Bougherra who was rampaging down the right wing from his centre back position.
Bougherra fed Blackpool striker Bouazza, who spun an attempted lob wide of Carlos' far post.
A roar went up as news came through on 61 minutes that Russel Mwafulirwa had scored for Malawi, making Angola's progress safer but raising the dread prospect of a Malawi win for Algeria.
Neither team appeared to relish this prospect, with some laid-back play along both teams' back lines drawing boos from the crowd with more than 15 minutes to play.
Alexandre Jamuana almost spoiled the script with four minutes left as his free kick was held by Chaouchi, who momentarily looked like he might allow it to squirm under his body into the goal.
But the final whistle went as both sets of players hugged to celebrate their safe passage.
"It was a tough game and both teams were under a lot of pressure," Glasgow Rangers defender Bougherra said.
"We knew about the score in the Mali game. In the second half Angola didn't push us so we saved ourselves for the next game.
"The more games we play before the World Cup, the better for us."
Algeria face Cote d'Ivoire in the next round while Angola will find out their next opponents after Burkina Faso take on Ghana in Luanda on Tuesday.
The hosts stay in Luanda for their January 24 tie while Algeria move to Cabinda.
Source: Al Jazeera