Emmanuel Emenike bagged a brace as Nigeria won 2-1 in Ethiopia Sunday to all but clinch a place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The giant 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 10 qualifiers for the play-offs, took the lead 11 minutes into the second half through Behailu Assefa.
Nigeria host the return match on November 16 in Calabar and a draw will suffice to secure one of five places reserved for Africa.
Ethiopia had more possession and scoring chances during the opening half only to be let down by poor finishing at the 35,000-seat Addis Ababa Stadium.
Girma Adane was the chief culprit while Salahdin Ahmed had appeals for a goal and a penalty rejected by the Cameroon 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 television replays were inconclusive.
When Ahmed went down the referee ignored spot-kick pleas, but the momentum was with the side trying to become the first from east Africa to reach the World Cup.
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 spoilt 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.
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.
Chelsea old boys Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou were among the Ivory Coast scorers as they defeated Senegal 3-1 in Abidjan Saturday.
The other Ivorian goal came when Lamine Sane put the ball into his own net and Papiss Cisse struck six minutes into stoppage time to give a glimmer of hope to the Senegalese.
Aristide Bance converted a controversial late penalty to earn Burkina Faso a 3-2 win over Algeria in an Ouagadougou thriller.
A shot appeared to strike the chest of Essaid Belkalem, who had his hands behind his back, but the Zambian referee awarded a spot-kick.
Outstanding Jonathan Pitroipa and Djakaridja Kone were the other Burkinabe scores while Sofiane Feghouli and Carl Medjani netted for Algeria. – AFP