Gian Piero Ventura''s misfiring Italy limped into the uncertainty of the World Cup qualifying playoffs after being held to a 1-1 draw by Macedonia in Turin.
Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini hit the target his colleagues in the forward line have often struggled to find in Group G by nodding the Azzurri ahead in the 40th minute.
But with time and ideas running out at the Stadio Olimpico, Macedonia substitute Aleksandar Trajkovski ended any hopes Italy had of approaching an anxious double-header against the likes of Portugal or Denmark in lethal form.
Instead morale among players and fans appeared low at the stadium where head coach Ventura, now 69, achieved success as Torino boss before accepting the Italy job last year.
Failing to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 would certainly bring a swift end to his tenure.
Italy -- crowned world champions for the fourth time in 2006 -- were never likely to recover and win the group after losing 3-0 in Spain last month but a platform on which to build confidence heading into the playoffs was attendant.
A near full-strength lineup was expected to see off Macedonia despite the visitors' pluck in this qualifying campaign, but Italy again demonstrated why they have only been able to limp into second place.
Napoli hotshot Lorenzo Insigne should have done better after playing a one-two with Ciro Immobile, instead firing straight at Stole Dimitrievski in the seventh minute.
Serie A veteran Goran Pandev, currently of Genoa, almost grabbed a surprise opener for Macedonia when sneaking into a good position to make Gianluigi Buffon work hard to defuse his powerful shot.
Italy lacked incision and when the chances fell they were largely wasted, Davide Zappacosta slicing off target after Lazio's nine-goal striker Immobile had headed into the goalkeeper's gloves.
Faring better with his head was 93-cap Juventus centre-back Chiellini. Immobile made up for his miss by supplying the 33-year-old with a perfect cross that was readily nodded into Dimitrievski's net.
Not neglecting his defensive duties, Chiellini soon raced back to cover for AC Milan captain Leonardo Bonucci - until July his team-mate at Juve - after the latter's mistake allowed Ilija Nestorovski to take aim at close quarters.
A mutual lapse in discipline marred the second half, with three players booked needlessly, and Italy were unable to build momentum in their pursuit of another goal.
Capitalising on their disquiet was Trajkovski of Serie B side Palermo, who collected a cutting pass from the tireless Pandev before beating Buffon with an angled drive from the edge of the six-yard box.