Italy remain in control of their own destiny but know they face a nervous 90 minutes in Croatia on Tuesday after being held by Greece in their final home qualifier in Castel Di Sangro.
A debut goal from FC Internazionale Milano striker Mario Balotelli after 34 minutes sent the Azzurrini into the interval a goal to the good, only for Panathinaikos FC midfielder Lazaros Hristodoulopoulos to equalise nine minutes after half-time and prevent Italy registering the three points needed to seal Group 1 with a game to play. Instead, they travel to Varazdin – where Croatia thrashed Albania 4-0 this evening – requiring a point to reach the play-offs.
Much had been said about Balotelli's talent and the 18-year-old almost added to the hype with four minutes gone as he collected Domenico Criscito's cross from the left and shot just outside the near post. Greece goalkeeper Alexandros Kasmeridis denied both Marco Motta and Daniele Dessena with 24 minutes on the clock but was powerless to keep out Balotelli's clinical volley ten minutes later.
The rest of the half was all about Italy, yet they failed to increase their tally and were on the back foot in the 54th minute when Hristodoulopoulos beat home goalkeeper Andrea Consigli with a powerful drive from distance. Balotelli went tantalisingly close to scoring with an overhead kick with 12 minutes left, although defence rather than attack may be the focus as the pool is played to a finish next week.