Euro 2024 : Italy begin title defence with win

Bastoni and Barella scored one each in the 2-1 win while Spain crushed Croatia 3-1

Afp June 17, 2024


Italy recovered from conceding the fastest goal in European Championship history to begin their title defence with a 2-1 win over Albania on Saturday, after Spain made a dream start to their campaign by beating Croatia 3-0.

Albania went ahead after just 23 seconds against Italy in the Group B opener in Dortmund as Nedim Bajrami scored to the delight of their huge support.

Bajrami’s strike destroyed the previous record for the quickest goal at the Euros, of 67 seconds by Dmitri Kirichenko for Russia against Greece in 2004.

However, Italy kept their calm and equalised when Alessandro Bastoni headed in at the back post on 11 minutes, before Nicolo Barella’s glorious effort put them ahead just past the quarter-hour mark.

That proved to be enough for the Euro 2020 winners, with Davide Frattesi coming closest to adding another for the Italians as he hit the post before half-time.

“It was a negative situation but we did really well to turn it around,” said Italy’s Federico Chiesa, who played in the final three years ago when they came back to beat England on penalties despite conceding inside two minutes.

“We had a flashback to the Euro 2020 final when we went behind immediately, and we were great today because together we took control of the match as a team, just as the manager wants from us.”

Italy, whose line-up at kick-off featured only five players who started that final against England, now move on to a heavyweight showdown with Spain on Thursday in Gelsenkirchen.

Spain, the three-time European champions, made a dream start to their campaign as they tore apart a disappointing Croatia at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

Alvaro Morata broke the deadlock before the half-hour mark and Fabian Ruiz soon made it 2-0, with Dani Carvajal getting the third goal just prior to the interval. The day was also notable for Lamine Yamal, Spain’s Barcelona winger, becoming the youngest player in the competition’s history at 16 years and 338 days old.

Morata’s goal was his seventh at the European Championship, a tally which allowed him to move joint-third on the all-time list alongside Alan Shearer and Antoine Griezmann.

Only Cristiano Ronaldo, with 14, and Michel Platini, who got all of his nine goals on France’s run to glory in 1984, are ahead of them.

“Of course this give us a boost, and settles us, but in five days we have a big game against Italy,” said Spain coach Luis de la Fuente.

“Above all we have to stay calm, our target is still very far away, we have to just keep our feet on the ground.”

It was a chastening night for Croatia, the 2022 World Cup semi-finalists.

They thought they had claimed a consolation when substitute Bruno Petkovic tapped in after his penalty was saved by Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon.

But the goal was ruled out by VAR for encroachment by Ivan Perisic, and Croatia now face Albania in a key game for both sides in Hamburg on Wednesday.

In Saturday’s other match, Kwadwo Duah and Michel Aebischer scored their first international goals as Switzerland beat Hungary 3-1 in Cologne in Group A.

Duah, the London-born 27-year-old who plays for Bulgarian club Ludogorets Razgrad, opened the scoring in only his second international appearance after making his debut earlier this month.

After providing the assist for Duah’s opener, Bologna midfielder Aebischer netted his maiden Switzerland goal with an eye-catching long-range strike just before the interval. Barnabas Varga’s seventh goal in nine starts for Hungary set up a tense finale, but Breel Embolo struck in stoppage-time to seal the points.

Hosts Germany thrashed 10-man Scotland 5-1 in the same group in the tournament’s opening match on Friday in Munich, and Switzerland face Scotland next on Wednesday, while Hungary play Germany the same day. England begin their title bid on Sunday when they take on Serbia in Gelsenkirchen, and striker Harry Kane on Saturday insisted they deserved to be considered among the favourites.

“We’re here to win ultimately and there will be nothing better than to do that for the nation,” said the Bayern Munich striker.

Slovenia and Denmark also clash in the same Group C in Stuttgart, while Sunday’s other match is Poland against the Netherlands in Hamburg in Group D. 


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