Mali came from behind twice to force a draw in the third round, first leg at Arthur Davies Stadium.
Defender Bornwell Silengo gave Zambia a 6th minute lead before his team mate Peter Mulenga headed in his own net five minutes later to level the terms.
Captain Reynold “Sate Sate” Kampamba put the Junior Chipolopolo ahead when he scored from close range in the 13th minute.
After the interval, Mali, who looked shaky in the first half, settled down and pressed for an equaliser that came in the 67th minute via Adama Mariko.
Mariko had dribbled past the Zambian central defence led by Silengo and Mulenga before beating advancing keeper Moses Mapulanga with a low shot.
The players wore black arm bands in the match was preceded by a moment of silence observed in honour of former first lady Mama Betty Kaunda who died on Wednesday.
It took a last minute decision to allow the match go ahead in view of the three day national mourning of Mama Betty Kaunda. Sports minister Chishimba Kambwili announced late Friday the match was to go ahead as CAF and FIFA had no provision for such postponement.
The return leg takes place two weeks later in Bamako to decide the winner of the pair to be at the AYC.