Italy Recover From Disastrous Start To Beat Albania

Italy recovered from conceding the fastest goal in tournament history to win 2-1 against Albania in front of a partisan crowd on Saturday, kicking off their defence of the European Championship championship.

Nedim Bajrami stunned the Italians and delighted a raucous Albanian crowd in Dortmund when he slammed in the opening goal after only 23 seconds, shattering the previous mark of 67 seconds set by Dmitri Kirichenko of Russia in 2004.

Italy’s comeback to falling behind was also immediate, with Alessandro Bastoni bringing the Azzurri level on 11 minutes and Nicolo Barella’s magnificent effort putting them ahead just after the quarter-hour mark.

From that point forward, Luciano Spalletti’s team were much more confident, but they should have won by a larger margin rather than facing an anxious finish as Albania battled for an equalizer.

Their performance — the first 23 seconds apart — was mostly positive ahead of an exciting match against fellow heavyweights Spain in neighboring Gelsenkirchen next Thursday.

Whatever happens in that encounter, Italy is already in a strong position to move to the Euro 2024 elimination phase from Group B, which saw Spain overcome Croatia 3-0 earlier on Saturday in Berlin.

Italy are something of an unknown entity heading into this tournament, having missed the previous two World Cups and failing to impress throughout qualifying.

Only five of Italy’s starting lineup at kickoff here appeared in the final of the previous Euros three years ago, with a new-look team led by Bologna centre-back Riccardo Calafiori, who won only his third cap.

Bajrami Makes History 

Albania’s midfielder #10 Nedim Bajrami celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during the UEFA Euro 2024 Group B football match between Italy and Albania at the BVB Stadion in Dortmund on June 15, 2024. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)


Albania, on the other hand, is participating in only their second major competition, having previously competed in Euro 2016.

The novelty of the event for them helps to explain why the Borussia Dortmund stadium was packed with passionate Albanian fans dressed in red and black, accounting for the vast majority of the crowd.

They couldn’t believe it when their squad, coached by Brazilian former Arsenal and Barcelona left-back Sylvinho, scored nearly immediately after kickoff.

Federico Dimarco of Italy took a throw from the left back position but returned it haphazardly into his own box. Bastoni was caught on the back foot, and Bajrami, who plays for Sassuolo in Italy, pounced to control and shoot past Gianluigi Donnarumma at the near post.

It was a similar start to Italy’s previous European Championship event, when Luke Shaw put England ahead after two minutes in the final at Wembley Stadium in 2021, before the Azzurri won on penalties.

This time, they pulled level after Dimarco and Lorenzo Pellegrini took a short corner on the left and the latter crossed for Inter Milan centre-back Bastoni to head in at the back post.

Italy had regained their composure and went ahead on 16 minutes, with a Jasir Asani clearance falling straight to another Inter player, Barella, who made the cleanest of connections at the edge of the box to fire a first-time shot past goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.

They should have extended their lead before the break, with Davide Frattesi hitting the post after receiving a wonderful reverse ball from Gianluca Scamacca in the box.

Strakosha then denied Scamacca, and Fedrico Chiesa curled a shot just wide at the hour mark.

Italy subsequently sat back, but Albania failed to make another attempt on goal, and the competition’s second-lowest-ranked nation could not get an equalizer despite their best attempts late on.

Substitute Rey Manaj came close after falling behind in the 90th minute, but he was unable to beat Donnarumma.

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