Tuesday, 23 July

Euro 2024: Italy begin title defence with win over Albania

Sports News
Italian players celebrating

Holders Italy battled back for a hard-earned opening victory after Albania scored the fastest goal in a European Championship match.

Nedim Bajrami made history after 23 seconds when he thrashed a strike into the top right corner after Federico Dimarco completely miscalculated at a throw-in, but Albania's jubilation in Dortmund was not long-lasting.

The underdogs sat back but failed to stymie the Italians. Alessandro Bastoni headed home Lorenzo Pellegrini's inswinging delivery after a clever short corner to level in the 11th minute, then Nicolo Barella smashed in from 20 yards to put Italy ahead five minutes later.

After that, Italy's dominance increased and they entered half-time having had 72.2% of possession, with 13 shots to Albania's four.

Italy continued to control the ball, but they did not have as much luck creating chances in the second half and were unable to extend their advantage.

Albania, though, were toothless and Italy strolled to their first victory of Euro 2024 without any real further concern.

Taking the early lead did little to help Albania's fortunes in the long run. They were expected to sit back and they did exactly that, but Luciano Spalletti's Italy clearly knew how to react.

Where Albania looked to crowd out Italy, their actions instead created pockets of space on the edge of the area for the Azzurri to exploit rather than attacking the congested box.

With Arsenal midfielder Jorginho and Juventus winger Federico Chiesa pulling the strings, the men in blue and white worked around Albania and carved out openings.

Italy could have scored more, but Albania goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha stopped their deficit increasing. He expertly pushed a Davide Frattesi dink against the post and denied Gianluca Scamacca from close range to keep the score at 2-1.

Albania improved and were able to prevent Italy hitting the back of the net again, but the pre-match underdogs could not find a way back to level terms.

Their best chance of an equaliser came and went as Gianluigi Donnarumma saved a late Rey Manaj effort.


Italy controlling as Euros defence begins 

Nicolo Barella is only the fourth Italy player to score at two European Championships

Italy were not immediately switched on; however, once they were, they were dominant.

Spalletti's men pressed energetically, overturning possession to create chances to possibly inflict further damage.

Winger Chiesa was particularly impressive, dribbling forward with ease despite the number of Albania shirts around the box.

Italy were well drilled and passed intelligently to try to pull Albania's defence out of shape, although striker Scamacca did little to impress in the box when the ball was worked his way.

Their attacking intent ultimately fizzled out, but victory never looked in much doubt.

Italy are a team in transition, with a new manager and a markedly different squad from Roberto Mancini's group who beat England on penalties in the final of the last Euros.

Difficult group games against Croatia and Spain remain as they look to step up their trophy defence, but Saturday's victory - setting aside that dreadful early blip - was a strong showing to kick off their campaign.


Albania's goal for the history books 

Nedim Bajrami rattled Italy briefly with Albania's first-minute opener

Albania had only scored one major tournament goal before Saturday, but Bajrami's was a special one to provide their second.

It broke a record which has stood for 20 years, beating the 67 seconds it took Dmitri Kirichenko to score for Russia against Greece in Euro 2004.

Sylvinho's side are in a tough group and progressing to a first knockout stage looks unlikely.

Whether or not they find a path out of the group, this year's tournament will hold a special place in Albanian fans' hearts for years to come, and Bajrami's record will take some beating.


Source: BBC