Italy and Spain Win Their Opening Matches, Albania Sets Record

Italy and Spain Win Their Opening Matches, Albania Sets Record

Titleholder Italy passed their first test at the European Championship despite a disastrous start. In their 2-1 victory over Albania, Italy overcame a 0-1 deficit within the first 23 seconds. Nedim Bajrami scored the fastest goal in European Championship history, while Alessandro Bastoni (11th minute) and Nicolo Barella (16th minute) netted early goals in a match that continued the trend of the young Germany-hosted tournament: at least three goals were scored in all four matches so far.

In the formidable Group B, both Italy and Spain emerged victorious in their opening matches, with Spain defeating Croatia 3-0. On Thursday at 9:00 PM, the two southern European teams will clash for what will likely decide the group winner. The underdog Albania will face Croatia already under pressure on Wednesday at 3:00 PM.

In their first tournament game in three years, the Italians, coached by Luciano Spalletti, had to recover from an early shock. A catastrophic throw-in by Federico di Marco into his own penalty area gifted Bajrami the chance to powerfully strike over the shoulder of star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. The Albanian fans, who were clearly in the majority in the Dortmund Arena, celebrated frenetically, but their joy was short-lived.

The 2021 European champions corrected their poor start with constant pressure, although Lorenzo Pellegrini missed a clear chance to equalize in the 3rd minute. However, in the 11th minute, Bastoni headed in after a short corner. The center-back capitalized on the space given by the world-ranked 66th team in the five-meter box.

Shortly thereafter, the game turned around. Albanian striker Jasir Asani inadvertently set up Barella. The Inter Milan player, whose participation was uncertain due to muscle fatigue, scored a stunning direct shot from 17 meters. The referee team deemed Di Marco’s challenge against Asani to be within the rules.

Afterward, the favorite team slowed their pace but continued to impress with Barella as a playmaker and creative offensive football. In the 33rd minute, forward Gianluca Scamacca displayed his skills by threading a perfect pass to Davide Frattesi, whose chip hit the post thanks to a fingertip save by goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.

Albania struggled to relieve the pressure but still hoped for another lucky strike, as Italy lacked the efficiency they showed in the early stages. The match remained tense due to the scoreline. Dangerous attempts by Scamacca, Pellegrini, Di Marco, and Federico Chiesa demonstrated Italy’s continued dominance, as they gradually reverted to their historic defensive roots.

With little indicating a 2-2 draw, the Eastern Europeans still managed to get a great chance to equalize. Rej Manaj, who escaped his markers after a long ball, was denied by Donnarumma from a tight angle in the 90th minute.


Photo: Ozan Kose, AFP

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