World champions Italy needed a Vincenzo Iaquinta penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw against Group F minnows New Zealand.
Marcello Lippi's side face Slovakia on Thursday and will progress with victory, while New Zealand will also qualify with a win against Paraguay.
Italy head into their final group fixture better placed than looked likely when Shane Smeltz gave New Zealand a shock seventh-minute lead in Nelspruit which was cancelled out by Iaquinta's spot kick just before the half-hour mark.
The Azzurri looked vulnerable throughout when defending set pieces so it was little surprise how New Zealand opened the scoring. A free-kick was floated into the Italian penalty area and Smeltz ghosted in umarked to finish from close range, although replays show he stood in an offside position.
For all their dominance of possession, Italy struggled to present Mark Paston with a real test until the 27th minute. Riccardo Montolivo's low, bending effort may have been denied by the post, but there was barely a two-minute wait for Paston to be beaten and parity restored.
Tommy Smith was the man responsible for felling Daniele De Rossi and it was Iaquinta who did the necessary from the spot.
The All Whites were a far more disciplined and resolute outfit after the interval but were fortunate not to fall quickly behind when half-time substitute Antonio Di Natale's rasping shot was parried by Paston.
It was not all one-way traffic, though, Richard Herbert's side going close themselves with a Ivan Vicelich drive that whistled past Federico Marchetti's goal.
Montolivo did find the target with another fierce shot but his path was this time blocked by Paston, who pulled off an athletic stop.
Italy pushed for a winner but could not unlock a stoic New Zealand defence and were nearly left point-less when Chris Wood's low strike rolled just centimetres wide.
But the result means Italy, who were also held 1-1 in their opening game against Paraguay last Monday, must beat Slovakia on Thursday afternoon to be assured of going through to the last 16, but a draw would be enough if New Zealand lose against group leaders Paraguay. If both games finish as identical draws, Italy and New Zealand will be drawing lots for second spot.