Serbia draws 1-1 with Italy in Euro qualifier
Serbia drew 1-1 with Italy in a 2012 European Championship qualifier on Friday, lining up a decisive match for a playoff spot against Slovenia next week in Group C.
The result meant that Serbia has to beat Slovenia away next Tuesday to reach the playoffs. Estonia, which leads Serbia by one point in the group, has played all its matches and Serbia's loss or a tie against Slovenia would put it in the playoffs. Slovenia cannot qualify.
Italy, which has already reached the finals, took the lead in the first minute when Giuseppe Rossi delivered a perfect pass to Claudio Marchisio who fired home a low shot from around 14 meters.
Serbia equalized in the 26th after a corner kick and a powerful shot by Zoran Tosic was deflected by Branislav Ivanovic, wrongfooting Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The match, watched by some 30,000 fans at Red Star stadium, passed without incident, unlike last year's qualifier in Genoa which was called off after only six minutes with the score at 0-0 after Serbia supporters threw flares and fireworks onto the field, broke barriers and then clashed with police outside the stadium.
UEFA awarded Italy a 3-0 victory and ordered Serbia to play its home match against Northern Ireland in March in an empty stadium.
''I knew all the time that the match against Slovenia will be decisive,'' Serbia coach Vladimir Petrovic said. ''We have quality to beat the Slovenes.''
Italy dominated the opening minutes on Friday with Antonio Cassano missing in a one-on-one situation against Serbia goalkeeper Bojan Jorgacevic.
Serbia slowly regained composure after the shocking start with Milos Krasic penetrating Italy's defense. The Juventus winger missed from close as his volley went wide in the ninth.
The Serbs started better in the second half, with Aleksandar Kolarov firing a free kick in the 46th which Buffon managed to control. The Manchester City defender sent a powerful shot into the penalty box the 59th which fizzed just past the right post of the Italian goal.
With the match progressing, the Italians regained control of the midfield, and Serbs tried desperately to hang onto the draw.
''We had good moments during the match,'' Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. ''Overall, I'm satisfied.''
Italy missed strikers Mario Balotelli and Giampaolo Pazzini and fullback Domenico Criscito because of injuries. Serbia was without defender Nemanja Vidic and midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic.
Serbia: Bojan Jorgacevic, Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolarov, Neven Subotic, Slobodan Rajkovic, Milos Ninkovic, Ljubomir Fejsa (Radosav Petrovic, 46), Dejan Stankovic (Milan Jovanovic, 87), Milos Krasic (Nikola Zigic, 76), Zoran Tosic, Marko Pantelic.
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon, Christian Maggio, Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio (Antonio Nocerino, 70), Andrea Barzagli, Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo, Leonardo Bonucci, Giuseppe Rossi, Antonio Cassano (Sebastian Giovinco, 67).