Steven Davis and Chris Brunt claimed Northern Ireland were good value for their goalless draw at home to Italy at Windsor Park tonight which kept them well in contention to qualify for Euro 2012.
David Healy headed wide from the hosts' best chance but 2006 world champions Italy had opportunities of their own.
However a point in Belfast means Nigel Worthington's men now have four points from their opening two games following an impressive 1-0 win in Slovenia.
West Brom midfielder Brunt told Sky Sports: "We expected nothing less than a tough game and they played their game, but we defended well, had a couple of chances and could have nicked it.
"It was an even game, so a draw is a fair result."
Rangers star Davis added: "It's a good result, especially after the win against Slovenia. The boys showed a good level of performance."
Manager Worthington hailed a great team effort and said: "It was a very hard game. We knew Italy would have their fair share of possession, but we've not played as well as we can.
"The courage, the shape of the team was great, people have been disciplined in their roles and the effort was fantastic.
"Without singling anyone out, the team stuck to their task - they were tough, resilient and came out with a lot of credit."
Estonia's 3-1 win in Serbia keeps the group wide open as Northern Ireland prepare for an away match against the Faroe Islands on Tuesday.
Worthington added: "I think we need to keep our head down, keep focused and keep chipping away, because if we could be on seven points on Tuesday evening that would be fantastic."
Speaking about Tuesday's match, Brunt added: "It's a no-win situation - if we lose you're a mug, we have got to do a professional job and come away with a result."