(CNN) -- Romanian striker Adrian Mutu saw his late penalty saved by Gianluigi Buffon as world champions Italy scraped a 1-1 draw in Zurich to keep their Euro 2008 hopes hanging by a thread.
Romanian players celebrate Adrian Mutu's opening goal in the thrilling 1-1 draw against Italy.
Mutu had earlier given Romania the lead only for Christian Panucci to level a minute later.
The result leaves Italy needing to beat France in their final match to qualify, while Romania also have a chance to progress if they defeat Netherlands in their final match.
Italy coach Roberto Donadoni made five changes to his starting line-up, following the dismal opening 3-0 defeat by Netherlands, with World Cup winners Marco Materazzi and Gennaro Gattuso among those left out.
Those changes looked to be working as the Azzurri started brightly, almost breaking the deadlock in the eighth minute when Alessandro Del Piero's close-range header from Simone Perrotta's cross went just wide of the near post.
In the 15th minute, Romania should have gone in front but Mutu's left-footed strike from the edge of the area was parried away by Buffon.
At the other end, Luci Toni latched onto Fabio Grosso's cross but his header went high over the bar. Buffon was then forced to fully stretch to clear Gabriel Tamas' free-kick towards the far post.
Italy almost fell behind in the 19th minute when Cristian Chivu's free-kick rebounded off the far post after being deflected by Panucci, with Buffon already beaten.
But the Italians were looking more dangerous. Both Del Piero and Toni headed wide from good positions, while Romania goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont made a fine one-handed save to deny Toni's header from Del Piero's corner having previously anticipated Giorgio Chiellini's cross into the box.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, Toni appeared to have given Italy the lead with a header, but Norwegian referee Tom Henning ruled the effort out for offside.
Disaster struck for Italy after the break when Gianluca Zambrotta's 57th back header towards Buffon was intercepted by a determined Mutu, who fired past the goalkeeper.
However, it did not take long for Donadoni's men to hit back. Chiellini latched onto Del Piero's corner and headed towards the far post where an unmarked Panucci fired into the back of the net.
The goal inspired the Italians, who surged forward more aggressively but failed to find the finishing touch.
In the 73rd minute, Grosso made a vital tackle on substitute Banel Nicolita as he threatened to break clear, while at the other end Lobont made a spectacular save from Daniele De Rossi's flying header.
Italy continued to surge forward but their efforts to clinch their first win on Swiss soil proved no avail and they have Buffon to thank for keeping their Euro 2008 hopes alive.
With seven minutes remaining Panucci was adjudged to have pulled down Daniel Niculae in the area but Mutu's well-struck penalty was superbly kept out by Buffon with a save which saw the ball rebound off both his hand and foot before heading out for a corner.
Donadoni felt his team were the superior side but also admitted the Azzurri were fortunate to be alive in the tournament after several refereeing decisions went against them.
"I don't usually speak about referees," said Donadoni. "But today's refereeing was not of high quality. Let's just say the referee did not have the best of days.
"I think my players interpreted the game well, with a lot of determination. Romania are a difficult team and I think my players merit praise for what they have done today.
"Considering what we have done in terms of chances and the determination we have shown on the pitch, I think Italy have been superior to Romania."
Romania coach Victor Piturca also believed Italy were fortunate to clinch a point. "Italy had a lucky escape," said Piturca. "Maybe Mutu was a little bit overwhelmed by Buffon being a top-class goalkeeper.
"But these things happen and it will not be the first time nor the last time that a player has his spot-kick saved. I am actually more angry about how we conceded Italy's equaliser than about Mutu's penalty kick."
Piturca was nevertheless satisfied with the result, which sees his team remain unbeaten in the tournament having held France to a goalless draw on Monday.
"This is a good result for the Romanian team," he said. "We have played against the world champions and against the World Cup runners-up and we have two points. We still have chances to qualify."
|Most Viewed||Most Emailed|