Italy came from two goals down to keep alive their hopes of qualification with a 2-2 draw against England in UEFA European Under-21 Championship Group B as a Gelredome crowd of 17,000 were treated to a thrilling encounter.
England had looked to be cruising when David Nugent and Leroy Lita scored two goals in as many minutes midway through the first half but the Azzurrini responded perfectly. Ten minutes before the interval Giorgio Chiellini pulled one back and Italy threw caution to the wind as the second period wore on, eventually getting their reward midway through the half when Alberto Aquilani's raking drive crept in.
Some of the Azzurrini squad had stood on the halfway line before the match, watching events unfold in Nijmegen as Serbia beat the Czech Republic to go through to the last four – a result that ensured one of these sides would be returning home after Sunday. Goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano, in the team as No1 Gianluca Curci was injured, began determined it should not be his, pulling off a stunning reflex save to bat away Steven Taylor's close-range header on ten minutes. He was grateful for some profligate shooting from Lita midway through the opening half, however, as the England No16 squandered two gilt-edged chances.
First Mark Noble, one of three changes to the England lineup held by the Czechs, sent him clear with a sumptuous through-ball. With Viviano slipping, the Reading FC man needed only to side-foot in, yet he somehow contrived to slot wide. Having missed a penalty on Monday he must have questioned his luck, a feeling that merely grew when he fired against the crossbar moments later after the Italy keeper fumbled. It sparked a frenetic spell. James Milner delivered an inviting ball across goal while at the other end, it took a brilliant Taylor block to deny Giampaolo Pazzini.
The Italy striker scored a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw between these countries in March, and goals appeared on the cards again. Ashley Young sent the ball just wide on the counterattack before Nugent finally broke the deadlock on 24 minutes, diving low to head in Leighton Baines's arcing centre. Two minutes later Lita added a second, hammering in after being put through by Young. It was not the end of the drama. Aquilani grazed the crossbar with a fizzing long-range shot though the Italians' first goal owed much to good fortune as a deflected corner cannoned off Raffaele Palladino and Chiellini and into the net.
The Italy left-back almost turned provider immediately, crossing for Pazzini whose header was clawed away by Carson, who was the busier keeper thereafter. He kept out another Pazzini threat before half-time and, after the restart, dived low to save Riccardo Montolivo's rasping drive. By then Pierluigi Casiraghi had made a double change, bringing on Marco Motta and Giuseppe Rossi, and the latter drilled an attempt just over on 55 minutes as Italy piled forward. Their equaliser eventually came on 69 minutes - Aquilani's low strike just beating Carson - and although Young twice went close to restoring England's lead, his efforts were saved and a late yellow card rules him out of Sunday's game against Serbia.