TURIN, Italy (AFP) - Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi levelled from the spot eight minutes from time as Italy grabbed a lucky point in a 1-1 World Cup 2018 qualifying draw with dominant Spain on Thursday (Oct7).
Italy's 2-0 defeat of La Roja in the last 16 of the European Championships this year ended Spanish hopes of challenging for a record third consecutive title.
But only three months on, and in spite of failing to win, the former world champions appear to be back with a bang.
Italy were outclassed throughout a one-sided performance at Juventus Stadium, where Spain enjoyed 77 per cent possession in the opening half.
It took only 10 minutes of the second half for the Azzurri defence to buckle, 'keeper Gianluigi Buffon rushing out to close down Vitolo when he ran on to Sergio Busquets' through ball and completely missed it.
Vitolo slid the ball into an empty net on 55 minutes but spurned a great chance to put the match beyond reach soon after.
Spain were fully deserving of victory, but when Inter Milan striker Eder fell under slight contact by Sergio Ramos following a great low cross by second-half substitute Andrea Belotti, Italy were awarded a penalty.
De Rossi stepped up to send Manchester United 'keeper David De Gea the wrong way.
Italy spurned a great chance to snatch the win in the end when Ciro Immobile, a late and effective substitute for the ineffective Graziano Pelle, flashed a drive across the goalmouth that found no takers.
The result means Italy protected their record of never losing a World Cup qualifier at home.
Only the group winners automatically qualify for the finals in Russia and with Albania, Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein included Italy are expected to battle Spain for top spot.
On this performance, the Azzurri will be up against it when they face Spain away next year.
Jelun Lopetegui's side dominated in the opening half, midfield maestro Andres Iniesta testing Buffon with a shot after waltzing across the area to complete a one-two with Manchester City forward David Silva.
It took 11 minutes to come, but in that time Spain had enjoyed 90 percent of the possession. By the end of the half, Italy had enjoyed just 23 percewt possession and 122 passes to Spain's 375.
Silva and Diego Costa were a constant threat in and around the Italy area, although Spain's best chance of the opening half came from Gerard Pique.
The Barcelona centre-back was yards from goal when Dani Carvajal's cross found Sergio Ramos at the back post, but after he nodded on for Pique the big defender headed straight at Buffon.
It took Italy until the 40th minute to elicit a positive roar from the crowd, Leonardo Bonucci's interception on the edge of the area sending Eder on his way up the left flank before he was closed down.
Only 10 minutes after the restart, Vitolo ran on to Busquet's superbly-weighted through ball to beat the onrushing Buffon. It was a timely reminder that Buffon's time as Italy's number one, as he admitted Wednesday, is "running out".
The introduction of Immobile made a huge difference for the hosts, the Lazio forward injecting a much-needed dose of pace and creativity into a wilting attack.
But Immobile slid in late when Eder offloaded to the right after being set up by Alessandro Florenzi.
Vitolo should have doubled Spain's lead on 69 minutes when he was sent free but with three defenders in hot pursuit the 26-year-old fired inches wide of Buffon's far post from just inside the area.
Italy claims for a penalty on 80 minutes were initially waved away by referee Felix Brych, but after consultation with his official, the German pointed to the spot.
De Rossi's penalty did the trick, but after a poor performance has left coach Giam Pietro with more questions than answers.