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From fastest goal to fantastic fans, Albania sprang surprises at Euro 2024

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Despite exit, Albania fans happy with nation’s showing at Euro 2024, in what many considered to be the ‘group of death’.

Albania are heading home from Euro 2024 bottom of their group with only one point, but those bare facts say nothing of their sparkling contribution to the tournament in passionate David-and-Goliath battles against three of the tournament’s top teams.

With Albania the second-lowest ranked team in Germany and facing reigning champions Italy in their opening game, Brazilian coach Sylvinho could never in his wildest dreams have imagined how well Albania’s second-ever major tournament would start.

From the whistle, Albania made three passes, Italy messed up a throw-in and midfielder Nedim Bajrami pounced to smash the ball in after 23 seconds for the fastest-ever Euros goal.

Cue delirium among tens of thousands of red-clad fans in Dortmund, mayhem in the bars and homes of the Albanian capital, Tirana, and an immortal moment for the proud Balkan nation.

Italy then scored twice, but Albania pushed them all the way, nearly equalising at the death, drawing an ovation in the stadium and raising eyebrows around the world for a team no one had given a hope.

Against Croatia in their next Group B match, Albania again thrilled their fans after defying the odds to draw 2-2 with a goal in the dying seconds in one of the most pulsating games of the tournament so far.

They were more contained in their third game, a narrow 1-0 defeat by Spain, but still gave their illustrious opponents plenty of uncomfortable moments via the marauding Jasir Asani and Kristjan Asllani.

Football players kicks goal.
Albania’s Nedim Bajrami, right, scores his side’s opening goal of the tournament in a record 23 seconds against Italy at Euro 2024 in Dortmund, Germany, June 15, 2024 [Frank Augstein/AP]

‘So proud’

“In general, I would consider it a positive performance in this tournament,” said Albania captain Berat Djimsiti. “Everything is possible in football and, with a little bit of luck, we could have done more.”

Sylvinho, who brought in fellow Brazilian Doriva and Argentinian Pablo Zabaleta to work alongside him in Tirana, had no regrets.

He spoke emotionally of how his young and inexperienced team had improved during his year-and-a-half in charge and done themselves proud in a fearsome group that had given him sleepless nights in advance.

“When we go back six months ago, a lot of the people were thinking we would concede three, four or five goals in each match. It was not like this,” he said.

“We managed to compete against three great national teams.”

Albania’s ambitious football federation hopes the experience in Germany stands them in good stead for the future, with more regular appearances at finals.

One thing they can be sure of is extraordinary support.

Many were surprised to see Albanians massively outnumbering Italians in the opening game, and that continued throughout, the fans’ noise and colour matching their vast numbers.

Some came from home, some from the global Albanian diaspora.

“If there was a trophy for fans, then we’ve already won it,” said Faton Shkodra, 33, dancing in a fountain with friends in Hamburg after the Croatia game, wrapped in red flags with the national’s double-headed eagle symbol in black.

“We are so proud of our players, they are so proud of us.”

Football players greet fans.
Albanian players greet fans at the end of their final group match against Spain at the Euro 2024 in Dusseldorf, Germany, June 24, 2024 [Frank Augstein/AP]

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