Vincent Enyeama was the hero for Nigeria saving one penalty and then scoring the crucial final one to help his side seal a place in the African Nations Cup semi-finals with a shoot-out victory over Zambia.
The Super Eagles, outplayed for large parts of the clash in Lubango, looked to be heading for the exit door after struggling in the face of their determined opponents, who did everything apart from finding the back of the net during the 120 minutes of open play.
They had chances aplenty, in the second half especially, but failed to convert any with the heartbreak of spot-kicks eventually deciding their fate - Thomas Nyrienda missing the one penalty that made all the difference.
It handed Shaibu Amodu's team a place in the last four, where they will face fierce west African rivals Ghana on Thursday.
But in what was an indifferent showing, they looked the more dangerous of the two sides through the opening exchanges of the game, with their confidence from the 3-0 win over Mozambique in their last group game still evident.
Despite their dominance, though, they failed to carve out too many openings.
In fact, it was the Zambians that created the first real scare when a Felix Katongo corner caused some discomfort for goalkeeper Enyeama who charged off his line and flapped at thin air.
At the other end, the first shot for Nigeria came in the 15th minute when Dickson Etuhu struck a low 20-yard effort straight at Kennedy Mweene, before the Chipolopolo goalkeeper was forced into a scrambled save after a sweeping move from Nigeria ended with a low 20-yard strike from John Obi Mikel.
Jacob Mulenga tried to hit back for his side with a good lay off for Chris Katongo that was nodded wide from close range, while James Chamanga then missed the best chance of the half for his side when he only partly connected a pin-point cross from the left as the sides went in level at the break.
Herve Renard's men began the second half positively with Felix cutting inside from the left and unleashing a 25-yard strike that bounced wickedly in front of Enyeama, who was taken by surprise as the ball deflected off his body and away from the danger area.
There was certainly a spring in the step of the Zambians with Mulenga and Chamanga both carving out half-chances, before Hijani Himonde saw his six-yard header from a Felix corner scrambled off the line by Yusuf Mohamed.
Ayegbeni Yakubu then found himself free at the back post, but took too long to pull the trigger as the Super Eagles looked rattled by their plucky opponents.
Another Felix corner and another goal-line clearance was needed to prevent the opener - Mohamed again the saviour as Mulenga tried to capitalise with a quick shot.
With time running out Emmanuel Mayuka put a free header into the crowd and Mulenga shot agonisingly wide as the game went into extra time.
The tempo seemed to have lifted when the game was restarted with substitute Victor Obinna playing in a good low cross to Obafemi Martins from the left, but the Wolfsburg pulled his shot wide.
But the Nigerians then went back into a shell as they sat back and watched their opponents show plenty of endeavour without reward - the two sides reaching the 105-minute mark still inseparable.
The start of the final period was just as sprightly, but this time in favour of the Zambians, who gained the advantage after Onyekachi Apam was given his marching orders following a second caution for a push on Emmanuel Mayuka.
William Njovu and Martins both had chances to win the game late on, but were let down by poor finishing leaving the game to be decided by penalties.
Mikel, Martins, Obinna, Peter Odemwingie and Enyeama all scored for their side, but despite Noah Chivuta, Katongo, Mayuka and Mweene netting for Zambia, Nyrienda missed the crucial fourth kick when Enyeama made an impressive stop to his right.
The Hapoel Tel Aviv goalkeeper then stepped up to score the goal and kill off the brave southern Africans.