Italy beat Albania 2-1 in first European Championship 2024 match

Italy wins opening game in defence of Euros title

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Italy’s European Championship title defence got off to a disastrous start by conceding a goal just 23 seconds into their match against Albania. However, the Azzurri managed to turn things around quickly.

In an atmospheric Adriatic derby in Dortmund on Saturday, Italy overcame the shock of conceding the fastest goal in the tournament’s 64-year history to secure a 2-1 victory over Albania, preventing an early upset.

Nedim Bajrami electrified the predominantly pro-Albanian crowd at Westfalenstadion by capitalising on a throw-in mistake from Italy’s Federico Dimarco, which failed to reach Alessandro Bastoni. Bajrami seized the opportunity, taking a touch before firing a rising shot inside the near post.

Italy responded swiftly. Within 16 minutes, they were ahead. Bastoni redeemed himself by heading in Lorenzo Pellegrini’s cross to the back post in the 11th minute, and then Nicolo Barella struck a swerving first-time shot from the edge of the area.

Barella was one of five players from the team that won the 2021 European Championship final against England in a penalty shootout.

With the likes of three-time champion Spain and 2022 World Cup semi-finalist Croatia in Group B, Italy faced immense pressure to win their opener. Spain had earlier defeated Croatia 3-0 on the same day.

Italy recovered quickly

Bajrami’s historic goal was quicker than the previous record of 67 seconds set by Russia’s Dmitri Kirichenko in 2004. Despite the early setback, Italy took control of the game, dominating possession amid boos from the Albanian supporters.

“They showed there was a gulf in class by playing good football… we played the game the right way,” Italy coach Luciano Spalletti commented. “The scoreline doesn’t reflect the difference between the two teams.”

Under Spalletti, who took over last August after leaving Napoli, Italy has only lost once in 12 matches. His task has been to restore national pride after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second consecutive time. The team appears more at ease in the European Championship, aiming for a record-tying third title.

Twitter post of the Italy team whcih took to the pitch in their opening European Championship 2024 match

Albania, making only its second appearance at a European Championship and coached by former Barcelona and Arsenal defender Sylvinho, nearly equalised in stoppage time. Rey Manaj’s deft chip was deflected just wide by Italy’s goalkeeper and captain, Gianluigi Donnarumma.

“We need to play in lots of Euros and World Cups so we can get better,” Sylvinho said. “The first 25 minutes were tough, but we were up against one of the favourites to win the competition. We didn’t play those first 25 minutes well, but we stayed in the game.”

The Euro 2024 tournament has started with a bang. Saturday also saw Switzerland defeat Hungary 3-1 in Cologne, following host Germany’s 5-1 thrashing of Scotland on Friday, resulting in 16 goals across the opening matches, averaging four goals per game.

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