Copenhagen (Reuters) - Alberto Aquilani struck an injury-time equaliser to snatch a 2-2 draw for Brazil-bound Italy and prevent Denmark climbing into second place in World Cup qualifying Group B on Friday.
Two almost identical far-post headers by Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner - playing in his first international since being suspended for six months following his arrest for drink-driving - looked to have secured victory against an Italy side that faded after Pablo Osvaldo’s brilliant 28th-minute goal.
But Aquilani silenced the home fans when he diverted Osvaldo’s weak shot from close range.
“It was a lucky goal - I was really good with my knee,” a smiling Aquilani told reporters.
“They were unlucky on a couple of occasions, then I scored a goal that maybe we didn’t deserve.”
The draw means Denmark stay in third place on 13 points, level with second-placed Bulgaria and a point ahead of the Czech Republic and Armenia, who beat Bulgaria 2-1 earlier on Friday.
Bulgaria, who host the Czech Republic in the final round of qualifiers on Tuesday, have a superior goal difference to Denmark, who meet Malta. Italy have already qualified for the World Cup as group winners.
“I am very disappointed. They scored a goal right at the end,” Denmark defender Andreas Bjelland said. “We have two shots that hit the post and (Gianluigi) Buffon makes a few good saves, but it was just not our day.”
It was a superb goal that gave Italy the early lead. Southampton striker Osvaldo controlled Thiaggo Motta’s long, flighted pass with a delicate first touch that took him past Daniel Agger before he curled home a finish.
It was a reward for a disciplined opening by a second-string Italy that featured goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in his 137th appearance, an Italian record.
Denmark were not deterred, however, and Bendtner levelled in first-half stoppage time when he rose above Federico Balzaretti to meet Michael Krohn-Dehli’s inswinging cross.
The Arsenal striker thought he had won it for Denmark 11 minutes from time when he again beat Balzaretti to a Krohn-Dehli cross, steering in a well-placed header.
Reporting by Terry Daley, editing by Tom Bartlett and Stephen Wood