Armando Broja started up front in Albania’s first game of Euro 2024, but struggled to make an impact in the final third despite working hard for the team, as they suffered a 2-1 defeat to holders Italy.

It was always going to be a tall order for Albania to cause the tournament’s first upset when they faced the reigning European champions Italy in their opening game and they eventually succumbed to the Italian pressure despite taking an unexpected lead.

Armando Broja led the line as Albania’s central striker, making his first competitive appearance for his country since the 2022 Nations League, having missed their entire qualifying campaign due to injury. Former Chelsea midfielder Jorginho was in the Italy team.

There was a strong Albanian presence inside the stadium in Dortmund and they didn’t need to wait long for something to celebrate. An incredible opening to the match saw Albania take a shock lead, punishing a defensive error by Italy inside the first minute.

Federico Dimarco’s risky throw-in was intercepted in the box and Nedim Bajrami smashed a shot into the top corner at the near post, to give Albania a dream start to Euro 2024. With just 23 seconds on the clock, it was the fastest goal in the history of the European Championship.

Their lead turned out to be short-lived, though, as Italy pulled things level after 10 minutes when Alessandro Bastoni headed in Lorenzo Pellegrini’s cross at the back post following a corner. Five minutes later, the Italians had taken the lead themselves, with a Nicolo Barella snapshot from the edge of the box.

Broja’s role now looked to be crucial, using his pace and physicality on the counter-attack, as was clear when Pellegrini received the game’s first yellow card for a cynical foul to prevent the striker breaking down the left. He was given very little to work with, though, as Italy dominated possession throughout, leaving Albania grateful for some big saves from goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha to keep the deficit at one going into the break.

Broja continued to be a willing runner and looked the most likely to make something happen in the second half, as shown when another Italian, Riccardo Calafiori, was booked for hauling the No11 back, although Armando also received a yellow card for his reaction.

That show of frustration summed up the remainder of the game for Albania and Broja, as they found Italy too tough a nut to crack. It remained 2-1 when Broja was replaced with 15 minutes left and that was the way it stayed.

It doesn’t get any easier from here for Albania, who now take on Croatia at 2pm (UK time) on Wednesday 19 June, before concluding the group stage against Spain at 8pm on Monday 24 June.