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Defending champions Italy bounce back to edge out Albania in Euro 2024 opener

Title holders Italy conceded the fastest goal in European Championship history against Albania, but still managed to start their Euro 2024 campaign with a 2-1 win.

Nedim Bajrami fired the Albanians ahead after just 23 seconds at the BVB Stadion in Dortmund, in the process eclipsing Dmitri Kirichenko's strike 67 seconds into Russia's 2-1 win over Greece in 2004.

However, the Italians quickly levelled through defender Alessandro Bastoni before Nicolo Barella secured a 2-1 Group B win which was more comfortable than the scoreline suggests, with most of the drama coming inside the opening 16 minutes.

Indeed, had it not been for the heroics of Brentford goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, who produced a string of fine saves, Italy might have prevailed significantly more comfortably.

Albania, ranked 66th in the world, could hardly have got off to a better start as Bajrami intercepted Federico Dimarco's ill-judged throw-in back towards Bastoni before taking a controlling touch and smashing a right-foot shot into the roof of the net.

Italy's response was immediate and concerted with Lorenzo Pellegrini firing just wide from Gianluca Scamacca's clever flick-on, and they were back on terms with 11 minutes gone when Pellegrini and Dimarco worked a short corner and Bastoni powered home a far-post header from the former's cross.

The game was turned on its head five minutes later when the Albanians succumbed once again to the incessant pressure when Inter Milan midfielder Barella, who had been an injury doubt ahead of kick-off, thumped a snapshot past helpless Strakosha after his defenders had been unable to clear their lines.

With Barella, Pellegrini and Jorginho dominating the midfield battle, Sylvinho's men were starved of possession and Strakosha had to come to their rescue twice as the half-time whistle approached.

First, he tipped Davide Frattesi's chipped effort on to the upright after he had been played in by Scamacca, and then got his angles right to deny the former West Ham striker at his near post.

Albania emerged after half-time determined to drag themselves back into the game, but met stern resistance from the Italian defence before the Azzurri gradually eased back on to the front foot with Federico Chiesa curling a left-foot attempt just wide on the hour.

However, despite the control they exerted, Luciano Spalletti's side could not extend their lead to give Albania hope, and they were almost made to pay at the death when Gianluigi Donnarumma did just enough to keep out substitute Rey Manaj's attempt.
 

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