Norway dramatically missed out on automatic qualification for Euro 2016 as Italy produced a second-half comeback to claim a 2-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday.
Per-Mathias Hogmo’s men went into their last Group H clash in the second and final automatic spot and leading Croatia by two points.
And Norway appeared on course for the finals when Alexander Tettey opened the scoring in the 23rd minute.
The Norwich City midfielder powered a low strike beyond Italy goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon to put the home side’s streak of 49 consecutive qualifiers unbeaten under threat.
But Antonio Conte’s side dominated after that goal and equalised through Alessandro Florenzi’s close-range 73rd-minute effort.
The comeback was completed in the 82nd minute courtesy of a rasping Graziano Pelle strike into the top-right corner that ensured qualification for Croatia – who beat Malta 1-0 – while Norway finish third and are left to settle for a play-off spot.
Italy went close to going ahead inside 60 seconds as Pelle glanced a header narrowly wide from Mattia De Sciglio’s left-wing cross.
The hosts continued to have the better of the first half, but fell behind courtesy of a fine strike from Tettey, who found the bottom-right corner with a fierce drive from the edge of the area after Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini failed to clear a left-wing free-kick.
Pelle should have levelled matters in the 35th minute when the Southampton striker somehow headed off target from point-blank range after Even Hovland misjudged a Riccardo Montolivo pass.
Roberto Soriano then forced Orjan Nyland to turn round the post a minute later as Italy piled on the pressure, with the Norway goalkeeper then tipping a Pelle header over and keeping out a swerving Florenzi effort from distance with a fine diving save.
Norway established more of a foothold in the game after the break, but were grateful to Nyland once more as he denied Eder with a one-on-one save in the 61st minute.
Both players were hurt in the collision and Eder was substituted and replaced by Sebastian Giovinco as a result.
Italy’s pressure finally told as Florenzi pounced on some slack Norway defending to poke home at the far post from six yards out.
Florenzi looked to have added a second when he slotted in after being teed up by Antonio Candreva, only for the Roma winger to be denied by the offside flag.
However, that decision proved immaterial as Pelle settled the clash with a first-time volley past Nyland to extend Italy’s unbeaten qualifying run to 50 games and secure top spot in the group.