Kieron Dyer's sealed a magnificent personal performance with the late goal that got England's weekend off to a superb start.
Ben Thatcher's sending off had given a worrying World Cup warning to Glenn Hoddle's team for tonight's Rome decider, but a defence marshalled by Rio Ferdinand and Riccardo Scimeca held on brilliantly after the Wimbledon man was the victim of a blatant 28th minute piece of play acting from Roma striker Francesco Totti.
And two minutes from time Ipswich raider Dyer's right knee did enough to deflect Darren Eadie's left-wing cross into the roof of the net.
It give the unbeaten group two winners a real chance of claiming an automatic place in May's finals as well as giving the Italians their first home defeat at this level since 1985.
Thatcher was dismissed when Totti ran straight at his outstretched hand and then crashed theatrically to the ground as the ball ran through to the outstanding Richard Wright.
As Taylor's side struggled to cope with the ugly tactics Hoddle's team may well face in the Olympic Stadium he might have been joined by Emile Heskey. The Leicester man, frustrated and angered at his treatment, lashed out with his right foot at skilful Gianmarco Frezza, and was lucky only to be booked.
Heskey had squandered the game's best early chance from Stephen Hughes' 20th-minute free-kick, and it was no surprise when he was substituted at the break, Manchester City's Lee Bradbury coming on.
Even after Thatcher's red card, Taylor's side continued to threaten. Dyer had an excellent run halted at the last before a brilliant reaction stop from Gianluigi Buffon prevented Diego De Ascentis putting Eadie's free-kick through his own net.
Eadie and Dyer went close at the other end as England broke with venom despite their disadvantage. The effort paid off at the death as the East Anglian double act combined to snatch victory.
Italy Under-21: Buffon, Einnocenti, Mezzano, Morfeo, Rivalta, Frezza, Amoroso, Longo, Totti, Fiole, Bellucci. Substitutes: Morgan De Sanctis, Zamboni, Lucarelli, Foglio, Gattuso.
England Under-21: Wright (Ipswich), Dyer, (Ipswich), Quinn (Sheffield United), Scimeca (Aston Villa), Ferdinand (West Ham), Thatcher (Wimbledon), Murray (QPR), Carragher (Liverpool), Heskey (Leicester), Eadie (Norwich), Hughes (Arsenal). Substitues: Bradbury, Marshall, Granville, Carbon, Murphy.
Referee: Hans Weber (Germany).Reuse content