Italy see off Albania after record rude awakening

June 16, 2024 7:38 am

[Source: Reuters]

Italy recovered from the shock of conceding the fastest goal ever scored at a European Championship to beat Albania 2-1 as Alessandro Bastoni and Nicolo Barella ensured the defending champions made a winning start.

Tens of thousands of raucous, red-shirted Albania fans had the Dortmund BVB Stadion rocking when Nedim Bajrami blasted home from an angle after 23 seconds, capitalising on a rash throw-in by defender Federico Dimarco.

The goal smashed the previous record held by Russia’s Dmitri Kirichenko who scored after 67 seconds against Greece in 2004.

Article continues after advertisement

Amid the din, however, Italy held their nerve and equalised in the 11th minute when Bastoni headed home when a short corner was swung in to the far post by Lorenzo Pellegrini.

Barella – returning to the national side after injury – put the Azzurri in front five minutes later when he slammed home from outside the box.

Davide Frattesi almost extended the Italians’ lead in the 34th minute but Albanian goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha tipped his chipped shot on to the post.

Despite fielding a team packed with Serie A players, Albania were left chasing shadows for much of the game as the young side assembled by Italy coach Luciano Spalletti dominated with neat and fast passing, albeit without creating many chances.

Central defender Riccardo Calafiori impressed on only his third international appearance as he took the place of more experienced team mates out with injuries.

Spalletti, who led Napoli to the Serie A title a year ago, took over the national team in September when Roberto Mancini controversially switched to coach Saudi Arabia, having guided Italy to victory at Euro 2020.

The tournament in Germany is an important stepping stone for Italy’s hopes of returning to the World Cup after failing to qualify for world soccer’s showpiece event in 2018 and 2022.

A bigger test of their credentials will come on Thursday when they face Spain who comfortably beat Croatia 3-0 in Berlin earlier on Saturday. Albania play Croatia on Wednesday in Group B.