ROME • Norway blew their chance of qualifying directly for Euro 2016 after they conceded two goals in the last 20 minutes and were beaten 2-1 by already-qualified Italy.
Needing a win on Tuesday to finish second in Group H and clinch their place, Norway were leading through Alexander Tettey's first-half goal until a blunder by Haitam Aleesami allowed Alessandro Florenzi to level.
Graziano Pelle then snatched a late winner to ensure top spot for Italy while Norway finished third, below Croatia, who beat Malta 1-0.
Norway coach Per-Mathias Hogmo was left to rue what could have been as a two-legged play-off awaits his men.
"We believed in a victory before the match and during the match. We gave everything possible on the pitch," he said.
"I've no idea which team would be better to face during play-offs and, to be honest, I don't want to think of it. We'll wait for the draw."
Helped by some fine saves from Orjan Nyland, Norway survived a lively Italy opening and took the lead with their first attack. Tettey blasted in a half-volley from the edge of the area after the hosts only partially cleared a free kick.
Nyland continued to defy Italy as he turned Roberto Soriano's effort around the foot of the post, tipped away Pelle's header and then made a superb stop from Florenzi before half-time.
Norway tried to pack their defence and waste time after the break. Their tactics frustrated Italy, who appeared to be heading for their first competitive home defeat since they lost to Denmark in 1999.
But it went wrong for the visitors when Aleesami tried to chest the ball back to Nyland but failed to notice Florenzi, who prodded the ball into the net in the 73rd minute.
Florenzi set up the winner when his cross found Pelle, who took his time before guiding the ball into the net with eight minutes left.
It was a scenario Croatia manager Ante Cacic pictured when his side were ahead in Malta, thanks to Ivan Perisic's 25th-minute goal.
"When Norway scored in Rome, I told my players at half-time that we have to concentrate on our match and that Italy would score two goals in the second half," he said.
Italy did Croatia the favour, extending their unbeaten run in qualifying to 50 games. Italy manager Antonio Conte was delighted with the win but still flummoxed by a Uefa rankings system that indicates that Italy will not be seeded for the competition's draw later this year.
"We've finished top of the group after giving it everything against Norway," Conte told Rai television.
"I'm sorry for Norway but that's football."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE