Italy had Andrea Consigli to thank as they started their Group A campaign with a 0-0 draw, with the goalkeeper pulling off a crucial save from Nenad Tomovic's close-range shot to deny Serbia all three points in Helsingborg.
The five-time UEFA European Under-21 Championship winners were arguably the better team in the first half and wasted a golden opportunity to score in the second when Sebastian Giovinco failed to convert when one-on-one with Serbia goalkeeper Zeljko Brkic.
However, Serbia finished the game the stronger pushing the Azzurrini deep into their own half in the final 15 minutes when new Genoa signing Tomovic forced a desperate save from Consigli and Gojko Kacar hit the post with an acrobatic strike.
"I did not make any other saves during the game, but I think this is probably the most difficult thing about being a goalkeeper as all of a sudden you have to be ready to make one," said Consigli.
"We were unlucky in that situation because a bad shot turned into a pass, but fortunately I managed to narrow the angle well."
The Atalanta goalkeeper, though, was quick to praise Serbia's performance.
"They are a very good team," he said. "We were expecting to face strong opponents tonight but probably not this strong.
"I think they are one of the best teams we have faced so far. We were the better team in the first half but they controlled the game in the final minutes."
Italy started with a 4-3-3 formation but turned to 4-4-2 in the second half when Pierluigi Casiraghi replaced a frustrated Mario Balotelli with Ignazio Abate. Consigli does not believe the substitution was the reason Serbia took control.
"In a game like this, creating a good opportunity can be enough to change the flow of the game," he said. "They went very close to scoring and gained confidence from that, forcing us to defend.
"However, we managed to keep our composure at the back and hold them off. We were also lucky when they hit the post, but overall I think the result was fair."
Like Balotelli, fellow striker Robert Acquafresca had a difficult night against a strong Serbia defence.
"We knew they were a very good team and they confirmed that tonight," he said. "The draw was a good result for us considering their late chances.
"We had to cling on in the final part of the game but we have to use this as a lesson for the game against Sweden, when we cannot afford to make any mistakes. It's already do or die."
[UEFA Euro U21 Championships 2009]