World Champions Italy are still alive at Euro 2008, but they will be thankful to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who pulled off a penalty save late in their 1-1 draw tih Romania.
The penalty was a contentious decision, awarded after Daniel Niculae fell to the ground under a challenge from Christian Panucci. Up stepped Adrian Mutu but Buffon pulled off a superb stop to deny the Romanian skipper. Mutu had earlier given Romania the lead only for Italy to draw level within a minute through Panucci.
In an open, entertaining game, a draw was probably a fair result. Aside from Mutu’s penalty miss, Romania hit the post and forced several fine saves from Buffon, while at the other end, Italy, for whom Luca Toni had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, created a number of good chances.
The best opportunity in the early stages fell to Alessandro Del Piero who nodded wide from close range after good work from Simone Perrotta.
With roving left-back, Fabio Grosso, playing more like a winger than a defender, providing a steady supply of crosses, Italy’s best hopes of breaking the deadlock appeared to be through the lanky Toni, but the Bayern Munich striker was not enjoying much success against Gabirel Tamas and Dorin Goian, who defended superbly throughout.
The tactic of aiming crosses to Toni almost paid off shortly before half-time when the striker headed the ball into the path of Simone Perrotta, but the midfielder was denied by a fine challenge from Paul Codrea.
On the one occasion Toni eluded his markers and beat Bogdan Lobont, the linesman flagged for offside, although television replays showed the striker was clearly onside.
For their part, the Romanians were showing more attacking intent than they had in their opening game against France. Several long range efforts threatened the Italian goal and midway through the half, Christian Chivu’s free-kick was deflected on to the post by Panucci.
After the break Romania continued to probe and they came close on 54 minutes when Mutu cut infield from the left and drew a fine save from Buffon.
Moments later Romania were ahead. A long crossfield pass aimed towards Mutu was met by Gianluca Zambrotta, who underhit a header back to his keeper, allowing the alert Mutu to nip and smash the ball into the roof of the net.
However, the lead did not last long and within a minute Italy were level. Andrea Pirlo’s corner was headed back across goal by Giorgio Chiellini for the unmarked Christian Panucci to stab home from close range.
All square and all to play for, but it was Italy, perhaps buoyed by their timely equaliser who came closest to getting a second. Substitute Antonio Cassano lofting a delicate chip forward to Toni and the striker chested the ball into the path of De Rossi, whose diving header drew a fingertip save from Lobont.
With ten minutes remaining Romania were handed a wonderful opportunity to claim all three points when Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo adjudged that Panucci had fouled Daniel Niculae as the pair wrested in the box. The Italian players, perhaps resigned to an early exit, looked stunned by the decision. Fortunately, in Buffon, they possessed one of the world’s finest keepers, and the Juventus man dived to his left to pull of a fine save from Mutu.
The result leaves Group C wide open; as things stand Italy now must beat France in their final group game on Tuesday to go through, although even a win in that game may not be enough if results elsewhere go against them. Romania find themselves in a similar predicament, although given the respective ambitions of the two sides before the tournament started, they will feel much happier with that situation than Italy.
Italy 1-1 Romania
Italy: Christian Panucci 56
Romania: Adrian Mutu 55
Missed penalty: Adrian Mutu 81
Italy: 1-Gianluigi Buffon; 19-Gianluca Zambrotta, 4-Giorgio Chiellini, 2-Christian Panucci, 3-Fabio Grosso; 10-Daniele De Rossi, 21-Andrea Pirlo, 20-Simone Perrotta (18-Antonio Cassano 57); 16-Mauro Camoranesi (13-Massimo Ambrosini 85), 7-Alessandro Del Piero (15-Fabio Quagliarella 77); 9-Luca Toni
Romania: 1-Bogdan Lobont; 2-Cosmin Contra, 15-Dorin Goian, 4-Gabriel Tamas, 3-Razvan Rat; 5-Cristian Chivu, 8-Paul Codrea, 6-Mirel Radoi (20-Nicolae Dica 25), 7-Florentin Petre (16-Banel Nicolita 59); 10-Adrian Mutu (11-Razvan Cocis 88), 21-Daniel Niculae
Referee: Tom Henning Ovrebo (Norway)