Danes stunned by late Aquilani leveller
Denmark's hopes of a World Cup revival suffered a blow on Friday after a late equaliser by Alberto Aquilani helped Italy secure a 2-2 draw that maintained their unbeaten record in Group B.
Juventus reject Nicklas Bendtner looked to have secured all three points for Denmark when he headed home his second of the night to give Morten Olsen's men the lead in the 79th minute.
However, late substitute Aquilani scored an equaliser in injury time after the ball deflected off the striker's leg following a shot from Pablo Osvaldo.
Italy, who qualified for Brazil 2014 with two games to spare, remain unbeaten on 21 points from nine games while Bulgaria, in second, and Denmark are both eight points adrift.
The Czech Republic sit in fourth, only one further point behind, meaning there is all to play for in the final round of qualifiers on Tuesday -- when Denmark host whipping boys Malta and the Czechs visit Bulgaria for a play-off spot.
"It was a shocker for them. My goal was really lucky - I'm just thankful Osvaldo aimed the ball at my knee!" said Fiorentina forward Aquilani.
"But it was a hard game. You could see Denmark were playing for their lives."
After a shaky start for what was a largely experimental side - Mario Balotelli, Marco Verratti were injured, and experienced pair Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi started on the bench - Italy took the lead just before the half hour.
Southampton striker Pablo Osvaldo latched on to a long ball from Thiago Motta and after rounding Daniel Agger beat Stephan Andersen at his far post with a well-struck curling effort.
Italy had dominated the opening half but Bendtner lifted spirits when he rose to meet Michael Krohn-Dehli's cross at the back post to beat Gianluigi Buffon with a header at the whistle.
Buffon looked to be at fault and on what was a record-setting night for the Juventus 'keeper, making his 137th appearance for the Azzurri to surpass retired defender Fabio Cannavaro, it was also one to forget.
Ten minutes after the restart Buffon was left rooted to the spot when Christian Eriksen's free kick smacked off the upright and back into open play.
With the possibility of taking sole possession of second spot and a place in the play-offs to decide which four runners-up join the group winners in Brazil now on offer, Denmark upped the tempo and were rewarded for their efforts.
Italy's defence was nowhere when Krohn-Dehli crossed from the left for Bendtner, who rose unchallenged to beat Buffon with a header that bounced in front of the 'keeper and into goal.
Prandelli admitted Italy had struggled with the pace and determination of Denmark after the interval.
"We suffered in the second half and were pushed on the defensive. My Italy team is designed to play, not to defend," Prandelli said. "We need to dictate play, otherwise we become vulnerable."
Despite Denmark's efforts the hosts were stunned in the first minute of injury time when Osvaldo's shot came off the leg of Aquilani and wrong-footed Andersen in the hosts' net.