Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni urged his team to learn from their painful lesson after Italy snatched World Cup victory from their grasp.
Sean St Ledger's 87th-minute header looked to have handed Trapattoni's men a famous victory over the world champions which would have blown the race for the top spot in Group Eight and automatic qualification for next summer's finals wide open. However, substitute Alberto Gilardino's 90th-minute equaliser broke Irish hearts and ensured the Italians won the group.
Trapattoni said: "Our aim was to win, but in the last three minutes, we needed experience. We are a young team and this is an important lesson for us. We must learn from it."
He added: "Yes, I am disappointed. Italy probably deserved a goal, but that's not the point.
"I'm upset, not because I know the work that has to be done, but because we let a goal in so late."
St Ledger's first goal for his country - a diving header from substitute Stephen Hunt's free-kick - sent a crowd of 70,640 into raptures at Croke Park.
But there was to be a cruel twist in the tail when Italian Gilardino, the man designated to mark St Ledger at the set-piece, redeemed himself by turning home Vincenzo Iaquinta's cross in the final minute of normal time.
Glenn Whelan had earlier got the home side off to a dream start when he thumped home Liam Lawrence's intelligent free-kick, and although Mauro Camoranesi levelled 18 minutes later, Ireland thought they had clinched another famous scalp to go with that of Holland during the qualifying campaign for the 2002 finals.
Skipper Robbie Keane was devastated to see two priceless points slip away at the death.
He said: "It sums us up, doesn't it? That's what happens to us all the time. In the dressing room, the lads are disappointed. Before the game, people would have thought that was a good result."
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