After losing against Slovakia, Italy got back on track with a 3-1 victory against Albania on their second step towards the European Championship, an event they will host in June. Di Biagio’s team played well in the first half, and deservedly took the lead through Dimarco. Then, in front of Italian football federation vice-commissioner Alessandro Costacurta and UEFA vice-president Michele Uva, Vrioni brought the away team level. Just as the match looked to be heading for a draw, the Azzurrini showed heart and character to win it through Murgia and Parigini.
“It’s always nice to win – said Luigi Di Biagio after the match – but the thing I was looking at most was the performance. We played slightly better than we did against Slovakia, but we are still behind where we want to be. We need to raise the pace at which we play and play with more continuity: we did that in patches in the first half, while in the second half we weren’t so good in this respect. There are things to reflect on, but we’ll take the win.”
Compared with the match against Slovakia, Di Biagio made six chances, with only Audero, Mancini, Locatelli, Mandragora and Cutrone keeping their places in the team. Depaoli and Dimarco replaced Calabria and Pezzella in the full-back positions, while Mancini partnered Luperto at centre-back. In midfield, Pessina took up a position to the left of Mandragora in the 4-3-3 formation. Up front, Video and Orsolini played either side of central striker Patrick Cutrone. Albania, meanwhile, on the back of a 3-0 defeat to Spain, included three players who ply their trade in Italy: Shaqir Tafa, Giacomo Vrioni and Marash Kumbulla play for Cuneo, Venezia and Verona respectively.
It was clear from the first few minutes that this was a different Italy to the one that played against Slovakia just a few days ago. Di Biagio’s team was aggressive and fully concentrated on the task at hand, hoping to make up for the poor performance in Dunajska. Cutrone had three separate opportunities to open the scoring in the first 20 minutes but couldn’t convert. But a goal was coming, and it duly arrived in the 27th minute following a fantastic volley into the corner from the left side of the penalty area by Dimarco. The Parma defender’s goal was his first for the Under 21 National Team and he celebrated by hiding the ball under his shirt – a reference to the fact that he’s set to become a father in the next few days. Italy continued to press after the goal, although they did have goalkeeper Audero to thank after he dived to keep out Sulejmanov’s shot.The only downside to the first half was an injury to Cutrone, who had to be replaced after 40 minutes by Alberto Cerri.
Albania came into the game more in the second half and were unlucky to hit the post from a deflected free-kick. Following this, Calabria and Murgia replaced Depaoli and Locatelli, while Parigini and Romagna came on for Mancini and Orsolini as Italy looked to shake things up. However, these changes did nothing to up the tempo of the game as Albania started to make a few inroads into the Azzurrini’s penalty area and went close through Vrioni after 70 minutes. After this, Crotone defender Riccardo Marchizza came on to make his debut and Parigini was denied after 87 minutes by the outrushing Selmani.
In added time, however, the match really came to life in what was a finale full of emotions. After 91 minutes, Vrioni was on hand to steer the ball home on his left foot after an effort by Abazaj. It looked like Italy would have to settle for a draw, but a minute later Murgia, who had just entered the field, scored with a low shot beyond the Albanian goalkeeper having initially attempted an overhead kick. Parigini then sealed it for Italy with a great strike across the goalkeeper, meaning the spectators in the Sardegna Arena, which is also celebrating it’s one-year anniversary, were able to go home happy.