Italy 2-1 Albania: Nicolo Barella nets winner as defending champions recover from early scare at Euro 2024

Turnaround: Nicolo Barella scored what proved to be the winning goal for Italy against Albania in Dortmund (REUTERS)
Turnaround: Nicolo Barella scored what proved to be the winning goal for Italy against Albania in Dortmund (REUTERS)

Italy began their European Championship title defence at Euro 2024 with victory as they won 2-1 against Albania at Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park.

While the closeness of the scoreline suggests a tight and hard-fought victory, this was, in truth, a totally merited win by the Italians, who dominated possession throughout and starved the competition’s second-lowest ranked side of the ball for long periods.

Albania midfielder Nedim Bajrami plies his trade in Italy with Serie B side Sassuolo and punished a poor throw-in by Federico Dimarco by nicking the ball and firing past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Bajrami had given Albania a shock lead after just 23 seconds, making history as the scorer of the fastest-ever goal at a Euros.

Albania, ranked 66th in the world by Fifa, were soon pegged back when Lorenzo Pellegrini’s floated cross landed on the head of key centre-back Alessandro Bastoni, who planted a header past Brentford goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha to level up proceedings after 11 minutes.

And it took Italy just five minutes to complete the full turnaround and score what would prove the match-winner. Midfielder Nicolo Barella swiped a crisp volley into the corner as it bounced up nicely for him — his 10th Italy goal.

The Juventus man became only the fourth player in Italy’s history to score in more than one Euros tournament, having also notched on their way to winning Euro 2020.

Italy kept the ball excellently throughout, but the talent and guile of Federico Chiesa and Davide Frattesi did not translate into enough chances for either themselves or for striker Gianluca Scamacca, who headed into the game on the back of a superb run of form at Atalanta and who was unlucky not to find the net here.

The second half was played at a slower pace as Italy enjoyed possession and Albania, perhaps inevitably, tired. Rey Manaj replaced Chelsea’s Armando Broja up front for Albania and came close to equalising before Donnarumma’s save, yet Luciano Spalletti’s team held on.

Victory sees them into second place in Group B, ahead of Thursday’s crucial clash against Spain at the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen, where England begin their campaign against Serbia on Sunday night.