Runners-up in the previous edition, Mali defeated New Zealand 3-1 in a Group B match to secure their spot in the Round of 16 at the Federation Internationale de Football Association U-17 World Cup here on Thursday.
It looked like Mali were on course to a comfortable win, but New Zealand had other ideas on 72 minutes, as substitute Charles Spragg headed home an Elijah cross to halve the deficit.
New Zealand, however, have a very slim chance of making it to the knockouts, while Mali advance to Round-of-16 after finishing second in Group B.
Mali are the first African side to secure a place in the last sixteen of the competition which also features fellow West Africans, Niger, Ghana and Guinea.
Mali's attacking midfielder Salam Jiddou, who had been looking threatening all match, broke the deadlock in the 18th minute with a fierce thunderbolt from the edge of the box after being set up by Djemoussa Traore.
Mali continued to enjoy more of the ball and doubled their advantage in the 51st minute before Charles Spragg gave New Zealand some late hope before they conceded again in the 82nd minute to put the game beyond reach.
"We were in a very, very tough group and were more than aware of that", Hay said following the loss.
Hay said the quality of Mali was at times just too much for them, adding they are one of the favourites to lift the trophy come the end of the tournament.
Mali struck straight after the interval when Djemoussa Traore added a goal to his earlier assist after he curled a lovely shot into the top right corner, leaving Zac Jones no chance in the New Zealand goal. "You can see the quality there and they're going to go a long way because they're a very good side".