Italy took a third-minute lead through Shane Duffy's own goal, after the Everton defender was booked for a foul on Ciro Immobile. Alessando Florenzi curled in the free-kick, but Duffy couldn't connect with his clearance, and the ball ended up in the net.
The Azzurri looked potent in attack, and were almost two up minutes later when Marco Verratti and Mattia Destro teamed up to force Ian McLoughlin into a save - showing why Cesare Prandelli named the duo in his preliminary Euro 2012 squad.
Eunan O'Kane looked good for Ireland, but the Italians went in 1-0 at the break. Destro went close again after the interval, before Ciro Immobile doubled their lead with a quick shot. Ian McLoughlin was forced off soon after with an injury, but Aaron McCarey did well deputising in goal.
Protagonist | Brady scored and set up equaliserIreland were offered a lifeline when Destro handled the ball in the box, and Robbie Brady tucked away the penalty. The Manchester United wideman had a hand in Ireland's equaliser, setting up Greg Cunningham's headed goal in the 71st minute.
AC Milan attacking midfielder Stephan El Shaarawy was sent on near the end, but Italy could not find a winner, while a late red card for Marco Verratti means he misses Italy's next game with Liechtenstein.
The point leaves Noel King's side two points adrift of second-placed Turkey on 12 points, with Italy clear at the top with 16 points. However, Ireland face Turkey in August, with a win probably guaranteeing a playoff spot for King's side.
Ireland: McLoughlin (McCarey 59), Egan, Duffy, Canavan, Cunningham; White, Towell, Hendrick, Brady; Murphy (Collins 89), O'Kane
Italy: Bardi; Santon, Capuano, Caldirola, Crescenzi; Florenzi, Marrone, Verratti, Insigne, Destro (Paloschi 73) (Romagnoli 90), Immobile (El Shaarawy 85)