Despite beginning this match as Group B's joint-leaders with four points apiece, neither the US, narrowly ahead on goal difference, nor Nigeria could afford to lose this one with the Netherlands hovering dangerously, just two points behind in third.
With the situation so precarious, avoiding self-inflicted blows was of paramount importance, and this only made Michael Orozco's third-minute moment of madness all the more difficult to fathom. Quite what prompted the US left-back to throw out an elbow into the midriff of Solomon Okoronkwo is anyone's guess, but the conclusion of this initially innocuous tussle on the halfway line brought dire consequences for his side.
Immediately, the Americans were put on to the back foot and within a few minutes it seemed they were set to press the self-destruct button again when the towering Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi was allowed time and space to bullet in a header that Brad Guzan did well to hold.
Lively, skilful and elusive, Ogbuke Obasi remained the greatest threat to the American defence throughout this enthralling match, and after forcing another fine save from Guzan midway through the half, the Hoffenheim star produced a moment of magic to carve out the opening goal on 39 minutes.
Seemingly penned in at the angle of the box with his back to goal, the Nigerian star somehow squirmed away from his marker and proceeded to tease the US defence with some dazzling close control before teeing up skipper Promise Isaac for a routine left-foot finish.
Nigeria were well deserving of their lead, and they began the second half as they had ended the first: on the attack, with Ogbuke Obasi causing problems aplenty.
The best early chance, however, fell to the US. Stuart Holden sneaked in unmarked on to a hopeful cross, but the midfielder seemed surprised that the ball had reached him and allowed it to simply bounce off his right foot and harmlessly behind for a goal kick. With news of a Dutch goal filtering through, misses such as this were becoming all the more costly for the under-pressure Americans.
In any case, Nigeria remained the more potent attacking force, and after Guzan had produced a fantastic reaction save to prevent substitute Benny Feilhaber putting through his own net, Victor Obinna looked to have sealed victory with 11 minutes remaining when he cut inside from the left and smashed the ball into the far corner.
That looked to be that, but with the final seconds ticking down, Ambruse Vanzekin rushed from his goal to make a crude and ill-advised challenge on Maurice Edu that resulted in a penalty which Sascha Kljestan successfully converted.
A dramatic finish followed, Charlie Davies striking the bar for the US and Nigeria missing a couple of gilt-edged chances to ensure victory, but the Africans ultimately held on and can now look forward to a quarter-final date with near neighbours Côte d'Ivoire.