Georgi Milanov fired home midway through the second half to clinch a 2-2 draw for Bulgaria in its opening 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Italy in Sofia.
Stanislav Manolev had struck a magnificent opener to put Bulgaria in front after half-an-hour, but a lightning double from Pablo Osvaldo just before the break looked to have swung the Group B game Italy's way.
Italy had travelled to the Bulgarian capital with plenty of confidence and it appeared well founded when it came close to opening the scoring after seven minutes, Osvaldo heading a Sebastian Giovinco cross just over the bar.
More Italian pressure saw a succession of fouls by Bulgaria, which was struggling to get the ball out of its own half until it had a mighty chance to sneak a shock lead in the 23rd minute.
After a free-kick from Emil Gargorov, Ivan Ivanov hit a shot from 18 yards which Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon did brilliantly to tip round the post, while Vladimir Gadzhev's resulting corner was hacked clear by Andrea Barzagli.
It was just the boost Bulgaria needed, and it enjoyed their best spell of the game with Buffon again called on to punch away an inswinging corner from Gargorov just before the half-hour.
Two minutes later Manolev drilled home his spectacular opener from long range, blazing the ball past Buffon into the bottom-right corner of the goal.
But the visitor responded well to Bulgaria's opener and it took it only six minutes to get back on level terms when Osvaldo finished off Leonardo Bonucci's cross by firing home left-footed from close range.
And just three minutes later Osvaldo had turned the match on its head with his second, a header from 12 yards after he met a pin-point cross from Emanuele Giaccherini.
Osvaldo should have completed his hat-trick on the stroke of half-time when his shot from 18 yards was tipped over the bar by Nikolay Mihailov in the Bulgarian goal.
Mihailov was in action again early in the second half, parrying an effort from Giovinco as Italy went in search of its crucial third, but it was the Bulgarians who looked more likely.
Popov saw a shot blocked in the box by Barzagli while both Milanov and Manolev had dangerous balls into the box beaten away by Giaccherini and Bonucci.
Bulgaria grabbed its equaliser in the 66th minute when Iliyan Mitanski delivered a cross into the box and Milanov pounced with a left-footed shot high in the centre of Buffon's goal.
The equaliser inspired the Bulgarians to launch a storming finish, Mitsanski heading just over the bar in the 69th minute then prodding a golden chance wide from close range two minutes later.
Manolev had a shot tipped over by the increasingly busy Buffon, who also saved from Ivan Ivanov, while all the Italians could muster in response was a long-range free-kick from Andrea Pirlo that was easily held.