Emmanuel Emenike bagged a brace as Nigeria won 2-1 in Ethiopia in the first leg of their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying play-off. The Turkey-based striker equalised midway through the second half with a fierce shot and calmy converted a last-minute penalty in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia, the surprise side among the ten qualifiers for the play-offs, took the lead 11 minutes into the second half through Behailu Assefa. Nigeria host the return match on 16 November in Calabar and a draw will suffice to secure one of the five places in Brazil reserved for African sides.
Ethiopia had more possession and opportunities during the opening half only to be let down by poor finishing at the Addis Ababa Stadium. Girma Adane was the chief culprit while Saladin Ahmed had appeals for a goal and a penalty rejected by the referee.
Nigeria offered little going forward and the nerves of coach and former Super Eagles skipper Stephen Keshi showed as he constantly checked his watch. The home side favoured short passes during the cagey early stages while Nigeria were more direct as they sought a fifth World Cup appearance.
Adane should have done better midway through the half, hitting a cross-cum-shot tamely at goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama from a tight angle. Within a minute, the Waliya Antelopes thought they had the lead as Ahmed pushed a long ball past the goalkeeper only for Godfrey Oboabona to clear.
The Egypt-based Ethiopian striker was convinced the ball had crossed the line, but replays were inconclusive. Ethiopia goalkeeper Jemal Tassew failed to grasp an Ahmed Musa snap shot in a rare Nigerian attack, but the ball was scrambled to safety.
Girma twice spoiled good build-ups with wild finishing, Ogenyi Onazi was too high with a free-kick and Enyeama saved acrobatically from Ahmed in a lively end to the half.
Addis Ababa elation and despair
Tense early second half exchanges kept the crowd quiet until a bizarre goal put the Antelopes ahead on 56 minutes. An Assefa cross appeared to pose no threat, but Enyeama had his feet behind the line as he caught the ball and the referee awarded a goal.
Victor Moses should have equalised soon after as he broke through, but Tassew dashed off his line to block the shot. The ineffective Chelsea midfielder, who is on loan to Liverpool, was taken off almost immediately and replaced by Brown Ideye. Silence enveloped the stadium on 67 minutes as Emenike levelled with a drive from outside the box that went in off the left hand of Tassew.
Musa rattled the right post from close range with 13 minutes left as Nigeria sought a winner that arrived when Emenike sent Tassew the wrong way from the penalty spot after Aynalem Hailu conceded a foul in the final minute.
The Tunisians attacked relentlessly in the early stages only to be foiled by the 30-year-old France-born shot-stopper. Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o, back after a short-lived retirement, was always a threat in the first leg of a tie offering a ticket to the 2014 finals in Brazil.
The teams, who boast ten World Cup appearances between them, clash again in the second leg in Yaounde on 17 November with the odds seeming to favour the Indomitable Lions, who will undoubtedly enjoy playing the second 90 minutes at home.
Tunisia flew out of the starting blocks with Amine Chermiti having a shot blocked by Itandje with just ten seconds gone at Stade Olympique on the outskirts of Tunis. Houcine Ragued and Chermiti again went close as the Carthage Eagles sought an early breakthrough while Eto'o saw his long-range shot comfortably saved at the other end.
Itandje had to be at his acrobatic best on 17 minutes, pushing over a dipping medium-range drive from Wissem Ben Yahia. There was no rest for the Cameroon shot-stopper, this time keeping out a Chermiti header as Tunisia used the flanks to create chances.
Eto'o was the victim of a two-foot lunge from behind by Sameh Derbaly and recovered to later cut the ball back for Jean Makoun, who should have done better than fire wide. Substitute Ben Fakhreddine Youssef and Pierre Webo squandered good chances in a less frenetic second half.