Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon superbly saved Adrian Mutu's penalty with nine minutes remaining to keep the world champions' UEFA EURO 2008 hopes alive as the Azzurri and Romania battled out a breathless draw in Zurich.
Buffon dived to his left to block the ACF Fiorentina striker's stinging drive with his arm and foot after Christian Panucci had held back Daniel Niculae in the area. Defeat would have left Italian ambitions on a knife-edge but in a free-flowing match they delivered a perfect response to Mutu's 55th-minute opener as Panucci levelled seconds later. It salvaged a crucial point, which kept Italy in Group C contention before their reprise of the FIFA World Cup final against France on Thursday when Romania play the Netherlands.
Italy coach Roberto Donadoni made five changes to the side that lost to the Netherlands as he looked to rescue their campaign. Victor Piţurcă had more reason to be satisfied after a goalless draw with France, but still freshened up his midfield, with Florentin Petre and Paul Codrea coming in – the latter bringing experience of Italian football with AC Siena. Italy's reshuffled back line was tested in the first minute when Mutu nodded over and in an open game it was immediately clear that Romania were willing to commit more men forward than they had against France.
Alessandro Del Piero made his first start since September and Italy's captain almost had an early impact when his header was deflected wide. Romania then created three excellent chances in the space of four minutes. Buffon saved brilliantly from Mutu, who had broken free down the left, then stretched to keep out a Gabriel Tamaş free-kick. The goalkeeper was beaten, however, when Cristian Chivu's long-range free-kick deflected off Panucci, but the ball bounced back off the post.
Piţurcă's team were showing all the invention they had concealed against France and their coach, sensing the momentum was going their way, chose to withdraw the injured Mirel Rădoi for the forward-thinking Nicolae Dică on 25 minutes. Attack was dominating defence, with Romania's slick passing inviting fear in the Italy rearguard while Luca Toni was winning everything in the air at the other end, Bogdan Lobonţ tipping one header over.
AC Milan pair Massimo Ambrosini and Gennaro Gattuso had made way for Daniele De Rossi and Simone Perrotta in Italy's midfield, yet their replacements were finding little joy against Chivu, who cut off the supply line down the centre. Mutu also continued to catch the eye, drawing a smart stop from Buffon before pouncing on Gianluca Zambrotta's weak back-header to fire his side in front ten minutes into the second period. The Romania fans were still celebrating when Italy hit back, Giorgio Chiellini heading a corner back across goal for Panucci to knock in.
Lobonţ had to touch away De Rossi's diving header as Italy pushed for a second goal, although it was Romania who had the best opportunity to win a breathtaking contest. Panucci was adjudged to have restricted Niculae with his arms in the area, allowing Mutu the chance to snatch what would have been a memorable victory. The Azzurri were staring defeat and possible elimination in the face but Buffon produced a dramatic diving save to his left to keep his team in the competition.