Robbie Keane booked a place in the play-offs for the World Cup - but the Republic of Ireland were seconds away from taking Group Eight to the wire.
Victory looked in the Republic's grasp when Sean St Ledger put them 2-1 up with only three minutes remaining against world champions Italy at Croke Park.
However, Alberto Gilardino struck in injury time to secure a 2-2 draw for the Italians and book their place in next summer's finals.
A win for the Republic would have left them one point behind Italy with the final qualifying matches on Wednesday night but Gilardino's equaliser puts Italy four points clear.
Nevertheless, Cyprus' win against Bulgaria on Saturday secured Ireland's place in the play-offs.
EARLY NIGHT FOR AZZA, BAD NIGHT FOR CROATIA
Aaron Lennon's latest England appearance lasted just 15 minutes.
The flying winger was sacrificed against Ukraine when goalkeeper Robert Green was sent off after bringing down Artem Milevski.
David James came on for 'Azza' as England reverted to a 4-4-1 system in the Group Six encounter.
Andriy Shevchenko missed that penalty but Ukraine grabbed what turned out to be the winner when Serhiy Nazarenko's shot was deflected past James.
Peter Crouch remained an unused substitute as England pushed forward for an equaliser but it wasn't to be - no doubt to the dismay of three team-mates at Spurs.
With that win, Ukraine edged a point clear of Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar and Vedran Corluka's Croatia in the battle for the play-off spot in Group Six.
The problem for Croatia is the final round of matches. They travel to Kazakhstan while Ukraine go to Andorra - their record is played nine, lost nine, scored three, conceded 33, no points.
ROMAN MISSES OUT
Roman Pavlyuchenko was a 54th minute substitute as Russia lost their make-or-break qualifier against Germany on Saturday.
There was only one point between the teams at start of play as Miroslav Klose scored the only goal of the game in the first half - firing Germany into the World Cup Finals. Russia will be in the play-offs.
Gareth Bale was back in action for Wales and played the full 90 minutes as they lost 2-1 in Finland.
BENOIT, SEBASTIEN CLOSE IN
Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong are a win away from the finals after beating Togo 3-0 in African qualifying on Saturday.
They now top Group One by a point from Gabon and know a win against bottom-side Morocco in the final round of matches in November will be enough for a place in South Africa. Gabon, meanwhile, take on Togo.
Adel Taarabt scored a late consolation goal for Morocco in their 3-1 defeat to Gabon.