A penalty save by Gianluigi Buffon spared Italy a second defeat of Euro 2008 but the world champions' involvement in the tournament was still left hanging by a slender thread after a 1-1 draw with Romania here on Friday.
Adrian Mutu gave his side the lead ten minutes into the second half but Romania's star striker was unable to beat Buffon with an 80th-minute spot-kick that would almost certainly have sealed a famous victory.
Christian Panucci had cancelled out Mutu's opener within a minute but the Italians never seriously threatened to go on from there to claim the victory they needed to haul themselves off the bottom of Group C.
After a goalless draw in their opening match against France, the Romanians will go into their final game against the Dutch knowing a win over a side they beat during qualifying will be enough to put them into the last eight.
Italy coach Roberto Donadoni was not too downcast declaring that he hadn't given up hope of making the last eight.
“We created a lot of chances, but, unfortunately we had to settle for a draw,” said the former AC Milan and Italy midfielder.
“Nevertheless, we remain on course,” added Donadoni, who signed an extension to his contract prior to the tournament that takes him up to the 2010 World Cup.
His Romanian counterpart Victor Piturca was delighted with the performance and the result.
“We witnessed a hell of a match,” gushed Piturca, who is in his second spell as national coach.
“It's a very good result for us, because don't forget we were playing against the world champions.”
An Italian side featuring five changes from the line-up that began Monday's 3-0 defeat by Holland appeared to have heeded Donadoni's call for a display of focused anger in reaction to that humiliating defeat with a high-tempo start.
The early pressure almost yielded a goal after ten minutes, when recalled captain Alessandro del Piero nodded Simone Perrotta's chip wide from close range.
The Italians quickly found themselves on the back foot however, and there was an echo of the defensive lapses that contributed to the defeat by the Dutch when Mutu broke clear and forced Buffon to make the first of three crucial saves at his near post.
Luca Toni sent a Fabio Gross cross looping over the bar from beyond the back post but most of the first-half action came at the other end.
Centreback Gabriel Tomas's low drive from fully 40 yards was bound for the bottom corner before Buffon reached it at full stretch and the Italians had a huge let-off in the 20th minute, Cristian Chivu's free-kick deflecting off Panucci onto the inside of the post.
Romania were equally unlucky to lose holding midfielder Mirel Radoi, who was stretchered off after a clash of heads with team-mate Razvan Rat, who emerged unscathed and was just inches off target with another long-range effort.
Toni's power in the air appeared to be Italy's most likely source of a goal and, after Perrotta failed to finish off one of his knockdowns, the Bayern Munich striker forced Bogdan Lobont into two good saves in quick succession in the closing minutes of the first half.
The lanky forward thought he had finally got the better of the Romanian goalkeeper in first-half stoppage time but his finish from Gianluigi Zambrotta's cross was chalked off for a debatable offside decision against del Piero, who was judged to have strayed fractionally offside as Zambrotta sent in his cross.
That pattern continued after the interval but it was Romania who were to take the lead ten minutes after the restart.
There appeared little danger as Romanian right-back Cosmin Contra hammered a free-kick forwards from deep inside his own half but Zambrotta's header back to Buffon was under-cooked and Mutu was able to dart in and smash the ball past the Italian goalkeeper from close range.
The equaliser came in less than a minute, Giorgio Chiellini heading Daniele de Rossi's corner back across goal to allow Panucci to bundle the ball over the line.
Lobont had to throw himself to his right to palm away de Rossi's diving header quarter of an hour from the end.
But it was the Romanians who should have claimed victory ten minutes later after Panucci was judged to have brought down Mutu as they tussled for a cross at the near post.
The Fiorentina striker got up to take the penalty himself but his strike was nowhere near the corner and Buffon got a hand to it before a fortunate ricochet off his boot carried the ball over the bar.
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