Italy begin title defence with win over Albania

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Holders Italy secured a hard-earned opening victory after Albania scored the fastest goal in European Championship history.

Nedim Bajrami made history by scoring just 23 seconds into the match with a strike into the top right corner following a miscalculation by Federico Dimarco during a throw-in. However, Albania’s celebration in Dortmund was short-lived.

Despite sitting back defensively, Albania couldn’t stop the Italians. Alessandro Bastoni equalized in the 11th minute by heading in Lorenzo Pellegrini’s inswinging delivery after a clever short corner. Five minutes later, Nicolo Barella scored from 20 yards to give Italy the lead.

Italy’s dominance grew, and by halftime, they had 72.2% of possession and 13 shots compared to Albania’s four.

In the second half, Italy continued to control possession but struggled to create clear chances and extend their lead. Albania, meanwhile, remained toothless in attack, allowing Italy to secure their first Euro 2024 victory without further concerns.

Taking the early lead did little to aid Albania’s fortunes. While they were expected to sit back, Luciano Spalletti’s Italy adeptly responded. Albania’s defensive strategy inadvertently created space for Italy to exploit on the edge of the area.

With Arsenal midfielder Jorginho and Juventus winger Federico Chiesa orchestrating play, Italy worked around Albania’s defense and created opportunities.

Although Italy could have scored more, Albania goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha prevented further damage. He expertly deflected a Davide Frattesi attempt against the post and denied Gianluca Scamacca from close range to keep the score at 2-1.

Albania improved defensively and prevented Italy from scoring again but failed to find an equalizer. Their best chance came when Gianluigi Donnarumma saved a late effort from Rey Manaj.

Italy controlling as Euros defence begins

Italy didn’t start off sharply, but once they found their rhythm, they dominated the game.

Spalletti’s team pressed energetically, regaining possession to create further scoring opportunities.

Winger Federico Chiesa stood out, effortlessly dribbling forward despite the numerous Albanian defenders around the box.

Italy’s players were well-coached, passing intelligently to destabilize Albania’s defense, though striker Gianluca Scamacca failed to make a significant impact when the ball came his way.

While their attacking momentum eventually waned, the victory was never in serious doubt.

Italy is a team in transition, with a new manager and a significantly different squad from Roberto Mancini’s team that won the last Euros by defeating England on penalties.

They still face tough group matches against Croatia and Spain as they aim to defend their title. Despite the early setback, Saturday’s victory was a strong start to their campaign.

Albania’s goal for the history books

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

His goal set a new record for the fastest goal in a European Championship match, breaking the 20-year-old record held by Dmitri Kirichenko, who scored for Russia against Greece in Euro 2004 in 67 seconds.

Sylvinho’s team faces a tough group, making it unlikely for them to progress to the knockout stage.

Regardless of their advancement, this year’s tournament will be memorable for Albanian fans, and Bajrami’s record will be difficult to surpass.

Player of the match: M. Folorunsho.