Mubarak Wakaso stepped up in place of Asamoah Gyan to bury a 38th-minute penalty and give Ghana a 1-0 win over Mali at the African Cup of Nations on Thursday.
Wakaso's strike put Ghana's Group B campaign on track after the title contender blew a 2-0 lead to draw its opener against Congo.
He capitalized from the spot at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium after Emmanuel Agyemang Badu was fouled by Adama Tamboura 10 minutes before halftime.
In the other Group B game, Congo and Niger played a scoreless draw.
Captain Gyan decided before the tournament not to take penalties after a run of misses, leaving the young Wakaso to sweep his left-foot penalty home and then celebrate by showing a religious slogan on a T-shirt that could land him in trouble.
Wakaso was shown a yellow card for his celebration, ruling him out of Ghana's final group game, and could face further sanctions as FIFA rules prohibit players from making religious or political statements during a game.
In a first half low on clear-cut chances, referee Noumandiez Doue was the central figure and was faced with a number of big decisions.
The first came after just seven minutes when goalkeeper Ghana goalkeeper Fatau Dauda handled the ball outside the penalty area as defender John Boye attempted to shield the ball back to him with Seydou Keita lurking.
However, the referee produced only a yellow card --much to Keita's annoyance -- and the same player then curled the resulting free-kick narrowly wide of the post to compound his fury.
Ghana eventually settled and Badu saw his header catch the outside of the post after he had done well to get on the end of a free-kick from Wakaso, who had slipped as he played the ball in.
And just four minutes later Ghana took the lead following another major decision for the referee.
Asamoah Gyan attempted to find Badu in the area and he was brought down by Adama Tamboura, although replays suggested Tamboura had initially connected with the ball as he slid in.
Doue pointed to the spot and Wakaso calmly stroked the spot-kick home, even though goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa went the right way.
Mali had beaten Niger in their opening group game but looked short of ideas and never seriously threatened to get back into the contest in a poor second half which featured more yellow cards than chances.
Ghana attempted to increase their lead and Gyan shot narrowly wide before Badu saw a free-kick pushed wide by Samassa, while substitute Solomon Asante also flashed a shot the wrong side of the post in the closing stages.
Niger more than held its own against Congo, which was the clear favorite coming into the match.
It could have taken all three points but failed to take advantage of a three-on-two breakaway in injury time.
The result leaves Congo third and Niger fourth, with qualification now down to the final matches against Mali and Ghana respectively on Monday.
Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.