Italy 2-1 Albania: Defending champions overcome record-breaking setback in Group B opener

By Sports Desk June 15, 2024

Italy opened their Euro 2024 title defence with victory after overcoming a record-breaking early strike from Albania to triumph with a 2-1 comeback win at Signal Iduna Park.

The reigning European champions were shocked early on when Nedim Bajrami hammered home after just 23 seconds for the fastest goal in European Championship history.

Alessandro Bastoni soon levelled with a routine header, however, before Nicolo Barella's fizzing finish muted Albania's short-lived celebrations in their first Group B encounter.

The Azzurri, champions just three years ago at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, never appeared troubled after the interval as Italy moved level on points with Spain, who hammered Croatia 3-0 earlier on Saturday.

Backed by thousands of Albanian supporters in Dortmund, Bajrami stunned the defending champions with his record-breaking strike after less than 30 seconds of action.

A sloppy Federico Dimarco throw-in proved Italy's undoing as Bajrami powered into the area before launching into the top-right corner past the helpless Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Yet Luciano Spalletti's side soon turned things around with two goals in the space of six first-half minutes.

Lorenzo Pellegrini lifted a well-worked short corner towards the far post, where Bastoni headed in with ease, before Barella arrowed a perfect half-volley past Thomas Strakosha from the edge of the box.

Matters almost worsened for Sylvinho's team, but Strakosha produced an expert reflex save to push Davide Frattesi's deft lob against the left-hand post and away from danger.

A far more subdued opening to the second half followed as Albania dominated possession without reward, though Federico Chiesa went close for Italy when driving a rocketed effort wide of the top-left corner.

Donnarumma was, however, required late on to keep Italy's lead intact, racing out to deny Rey Manaj's chip, though somehow the referee gave a goal-kick in the dying seconds.

Youthful Italy respond emphatically

An eye-catching Bajrami strike ensured Italy conceded the opening goal in successive European Championship games for the first time since a three-game run between June 2004 and June 2008.

Yet that fast start proved to matter little as Spalletti's side, who are attempting to become just the second team to win back-to-back Euros after Spain (2008, 2012), roared back with an emphatic response.

Bastoni headed in just his second international goal on his 24th appearance, with both strikes coming on German soil, before Barella's 10th goal for Italy returned Spalletti's men to their expected course.

A dominant performance followed with a showing belying their youthful age as Italy fielded their youngest starting line-up (26 years and 287 days) at the Euros since June 1988 – against the Soviet Union in the semi-finals (25y 2d).

Albania's Azzurri struggles persist

Bajrami's goal was just Albania's second ever at the European Championships and shattered the record for the fastest strike in the tournament's 64-year history.

Yet it was a familiar tale for Sylvinho's side, who have now lost their last five meetings with Italy across all competitions after a remarkable turnaround in the first half.

Albania will be desperate to respond when they meet Croatia on Wednesday, aiming to add to their sole Euros victory that came in a 1-0 win over Romania in the final group game of the 2016 edition.

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