The Ivory Coast set up an African Nations Cup final against Zambia after Gervinho's solo goal saw them past Mali in Libreville.
The Elephants will return to the same venue on Sunday seeking their second title after the Arsenal forward ran from his own half and slotted home.
His side's defence then kept their opponents at bay in the second half to ensure their progression to the final for the third time.
Siaka Tiene delivered a free-kick from the right and Didier Drogba's downward header bounced up and struck the top of the post.
Goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite, beaten to the ball by Drogba for that chance, then misjudged the bounce of the Chelsea striker's free-kick and was fortunate when the ball bounced into his face and around the post.
He was beaten at his near post by Yaya Toure's powerful drive but again saw the ball rebound to safety off the woodwork.
Mali's first chance fell to Cheick Diabate but Jean-Jaques Gosso made a goal-saving challenge and Sambou Yatabare could not convert the rebound.
Salomon Kalou then poked wide after creditably staying on his feet under a challenge in the penalty area, and Drogba scuffed a shot wide after holding off two defenders.
But Gervinho put the Elephants ahead on the stroke of half-time when he tricked his way past Ousmane Berthe on the halfway line, burst unchallenged into the penalty area and finished coolly.
Diabate chanced his arm from distance early in the second period, but keeper Boubacar Barry saved and held onto the ball as he collided with the post.
Barry's efforts were matched by opposite number Diakite, who tipped over Kalou's goalbound effort.
Yatabare shot just over for Mali, his last contribution before he gave way to Garra Dembele.
Toure twice went close and Diakite saved with his feet from Drogba, and Mali did not seriously threaten an equaliser in the closing stages.