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Italy hold on to maintain pace

Serbia and Montenegro 1-1 Italy A point keeps Italy top of Group 9 as the home team miss out.

Italy missed the chance to gain automatic qualification to UEFA EURO 2004™, but remained in control of Group 9 after a 1-1 draw away to Serbia and Montenegro.

Home side go out
With Wales drawing 1-1 against Finland, Italy remain a point ahead with one game left. Although a late Saša Ilic equaliser denied them victory, they spent most of the game on the backfoot against an attacking Serbo-Montenegrin side, who cannot now qualify.

Suspended duo
Dejan Stankovic and Zvonimir Vukic were suspended for the home team, so Ilic and Predrag Djordjevic came into midfield, while Savo Milosevic replaced the injured Darko Kovacevic up front. For the Azzurri, defender Alessio Tacchinardi took the place of Cristiano Zanetti.

First chance
Serbia and Montenegro knew they needed a win, especially after Wales took an early lead against Finland, and started at a rate of knots, just as Italy had done in beating the Welsh 4-0 on Saturday. However, it was the Italians who had the first chance as Simone Perrotta's shot was saved by Dragoslav Jevric.

Cirkovic the danger man
The home team strived to get the ball wide, where Milivoje Cirkovic's crosses from the right were causing real problems. Mateja Kezman raced into the box to latch on to one such centre and shoot over on 16 minutes. However, six minutes later a goal came at the other end.

Inzaghi scores
The man on target was Filippo Inzaghi, scorer of a hat-trick against Wales. He ran on to Fabio Cannavaro's long free-kick, outmuscled Goran Gavrancic and slotted in. It was a shock to the home side, and although Kezman did have a header tipped over by Gianluigi Buffon, Italy held on comfortably until half-time.

Ljuboja chance
After the break, Serbia and Montenegro again pushed forward although the introduction of Gennaro Gattuso added steel to the Italian midfield. Danijel Ljuboja was sent on for Kezman to bolster the Serbo-Montenegrin attack, and headed fellow substitute Branko Boskovic's cross just wide.

Ilic levels
But with eight minutes left the deserved equaliser came as Boskovic's corner came to Milosevic, whose shot was cleared off the line but only as far as Ilic, who made no mistake.

'A brilliant game'
The home side could not score again and their turbulent campaign ended before their final trip to Wales. Their coach Ilja Petkovic said: "It was a brilliant game because we saw two great teams. But tonight we deserved to win and I am very unhappy. When you make about 15 chances and you miss 14 you cannot win, especially against Italy who have a very strong defence."

One step to go
Italy missed the chance to qualify automatically, but will be relieved with a point and now need only beat Azerbaijan at home on 11 October to reach Portugal. Coach Giovanni Trapattoni said: "We have only got one step to make it to Portugal and I believe we will win against Azerbaijan."