Former Liverpool goalkeeper Charles Itandje made a string of superb saves to help Cameroon force a 0-0 FIFA World Cup Africa play-off draw in Tunisia on Sunday.
Given a second chance after Cape Verde were disqualified, the Tunisians attacked relentlessly in the early stages, only to be foiled by the 30-year-old 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 next year’s finals in Brazil.
The teams, who boast 10 World Cup appearances between them, clash again in the second leg in Yaounde on Nov. 17, with the odds favoring the Indomitable Lions.
Tunisia flew out of the starting blocks, with Amine Chermiti having a shot blocked by France-born Itandje just 10 seconds in at the Stade Olympique de Rades 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 goalie, as Tunisia used the flanks to create chances, forcing him to block a Chermiti header.
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.
In Sunday’s other Africa qualifier, Emmanuel Emenike scored both goals as Nigeria triumphed 2-1 in Ethiopia to all but seal a fifth World Cup appearance.
Emenike’s fierce drive from outside the box brought the Super Eagles level midway through the second half before calmly converting a last-minute penalty.
Ethiopia’s Girma Adane wasted several good first-half chances and Salahdin Ahmed had a shot cleared off the line by Godfrey Oboabona.
The Waliya Antelopes went ahead early in the second half when Nigeria goalkeeper and captain Vincent Enyeama caught a harmless Behailu Assefa cross behind the goal-line.
Ethiopia caused the shock of the mini-league previous stage, winning a group in which 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa were top seeds.
Ghana host Egypt today in a much-anticipated final first-leg fixture and the return matches will be staged in the middle of next month.