Italy draw dampens Serbian hopes
© AFP

Serbia's hopes of securing a place in the UEFA EURO 2012 play-offs suffered a blow despite a 1-1 draw with Italy in qualifying group C at the Marakana stadium.

Claudio Marchisio gave the visitors a first-minute lead, but a goal from Branislav Ivanovic restored parity before half-time. However, with Estonia winning in Northern Ireland, Serbia must now win their final group game in Slovenia to overtake their rivals for second place in the group.

A draw would see them draw level on points with Estonia but miss out on their head-to-head record, due in no small part to a shock 3-1 home defeat to their rivals last October. Friday night's results also eliminated Slovenia and Northern Ireland from the play-off running.

"It wasn't an easy match, we kept trying to play, the lads did well and played with concentration," he told RAI. "In midfield we had to play in a certain way so we pushed forward on the flanks and that worked well. Now we'll have the final qualification match in Pescara and we'll go there to play well and win."

Serbia coach Vladimir Petrovic told Serbian state television: "The Italian side showed an excellent play, but we also had our chances. I think the result is realistic. I said that all matches would be important till the end of qualifiers. I have planned for us to take a point in this match, and that the Slovenia match will be decisive. We can win there."

I think the result is realistic. 
Serbia coach Vladimir Petrovic

After the previous game between Serbia and Italy in Genoa a year ago was called off after just six minutes due to fiery scenes in the stands, this match started at boiling point on the pitch. Manchester City full-back Aleksandar Kolarov burst forward inside the first 30 seconds and let fly from distance with Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon spilling the shot and needing Giorgio Chiellini to hack clear the loose ball.

However, within another 30-seconds, Buffon had punted a long ball up the field and with Serbia's defence getting caught short and finding itself in a muddle, Giuseppe Rossi turned on a sixpence and slipped in Marchisio, breaking from deep, to take one touch and then prod home with his second beyond Bojan Jorgacevic.

Any thoughts the already qualified Italians would be taking this game lightly were dispelled and Rossi could have made it two as he wriggled free in the area only for Jorgacevic to crowd out his shot.

When the equaliser came it was down in no small part to good fortune. Former Manchester United winger Zoran Tosic let fly from outside the area after Milos Krasic's corner was only half cleared and while the shot wasn't heading on target, it hit the grounded Ivanovic and wrong-footed Buffon.

In a half of few chances the only other sniff at goal came from Krasic, but his back post volley bounced well wide. Serbia showed their determination as they stormed out after the break and Kolarov's whipped free-kick had Buffon stumbling to push it clear at his near post.

The hosts then wasted a dangerous break as Kolarov's cross was too close to Buffon, who cut it out easily with Krasic free at the back stick. Marko Pantellic headed over when well placed while Riccardo Montolivo wasted a chance identical to Kolarov's when he failed to pick out Rossi at the back post. Antonio Cassano's low shot kept Jorgacevic busy but the game petered out into a stalemate.