(CNN) -- Ghana, the four time champion of the African Cup of Nations, took a giant step towards qualifying for the quarterfinals following a 1-0 win over Mali in South Africa Thursday.
Mubarak Wakaso's 38th minute penalty was enough to separate the two teams in a game which the Black Stars dominated.
But the contest could have turned out in a very diferent fashion had Ghana goalkeeper Fatau Dauda been sent off for deliberately handling the ball outside of his penalty area.
The incident occurred with just eight minutes played in Port Elizabeth when Dauda clearly used his hands to field the ball and deny Mali a clear effort on goal.
The referee remarkably only produced a yellow card, a decision which was later criticized by Mali coach Patrice Carteron.
He told reporters: "The referee did not help us because he ought to have sent off the Ghana goalkeeper rather than just booking him for handling the ball outside his area.
"Ghana was better, especially in the first half, but we still have a game to qualify for the next round and so we will forget this match and focus on our next game."
After the early let-off, Ghana began to assert itself and came close to taking the lead when Emmanuel Agyeman Badu crashed a header against the post.
But Ghana didn't have to wait long for the breakthrough as Wakaso stroked home from the spot following Adam Tamboura's foul on Agyeman Badu.
Mali tried to force an equalizer after the break and Seydou Keita came close to connecting with Mahamane Traore's pass, but Ghana held out for the points.
"We were much more tactically disciplined in this game than against DR Congo, but I know we can do a lot better than we did today," Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah told reporters.
Captain Asamoah Gyan added: "It was a difficult game. We needed to win and now we have four points, but we need more to qualify to the next stage and so we will not underrate Niger."
The result leaves Ghana at the top of Group B on four points from its two games, one point clear of Mali going into the final round of games.
In the day's other game, Niger held on for its first ever point at the Africa Cup of Nations after holding Democratic Republic of Congo to a goalless draw.
Niger's Modibo Sidibe wasted his side's best chance on 10 minutes when he ran clear on goal only to fire his effort against the base of the post.
Dieumerci Mbokani went close for the Leopards, having his fierce effort well saved by Niger goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly.
West Bromwich Albion midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu then fired wide as Democratic Republic of Congo continued to pile on the pressure.
Niger's Kassaly continued to keep his side in the contest with a couple of outstanding saves, while at the other end, Moussa Maazou went close with a header.
Ghana, which last won the competition in 1982, will face Niger in its final group game on Monday with Mali taking on Democratic Republic of Congo.