Soccer-Grit and swagger - Spalletti's Italy survive storm

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group B - Italy v Albania - Dortmund BVB Stadion, Dortmund, Germany - June 15, 2024 Italy's Giovanni Di Lorenzo with teammates celebrate after the match REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler

DORTMUND, Germany (Reuters) - The way Italy fought back to win their Euro 2024 opener against Albania should instill new belief in a fan base badly hurt by their failure to qualify for the last two World Cups.

Although they are defending European champions, that confidence has been fuelled by the work of manager Luciano Spalletti.

Albania made a dream start when Nedim Bajrami netted the fastest goal ever scored at a European Championship, igniting their red-clad fans who bounced at Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion Stadium to shake the stadium to its foundations.

Italy, however, were unfazed and looked as cool as if they were playing a practice match, with the swagger football fans would expect to expect from the Azzurri jersey which carries four World Cup championship stars.

Spalletti’s Italy fought back to win in dominant fashion, playing a different style of football from what they are known for.

Instead of their trademark Catenaccio - a tactical system with a strong emphasis on defence – Italy silenced Albania’s wall of noise with an attacking style of football, similar to what Spalletti deployed at Napoli who won Serie A with a month to spare last year to end a three-decade title drought.

Italy played "Luciano’s football" with control of possession, dominating small areas of the pitch with intense pressure to allow the vision and skills of Niccolo Barella and Lorenzo Pellegrini to service strikers Davide Frattesi and Federico Chiesa.

They wasted chances and could be still be short of firepower as Atalanta's Gianluca Scamacca was wasteful, but it was in defence where Italy answered many questions.

After missing Giorgio Scalvini and Francesco Acerbi to injuries before the tournament, Alessandro Bastoni and 22-year-old Riccardo Calafiori played like seasoned veterans, showing calmness and composure after the early mistake that allowed Albania to take the lead.

Spalletti is a polarising figure who divided opinion in Italy due to his progressive ideas in the home of conservative football. For much of his career, he was admired as a gifted coach and a sophisticated tactician who failed to win titles.

He finally achieved glory with Napoli and now has started on the right foot with an important win for Italy in a tough Group B ahead of games against Spain and Croatia.

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas, editing by Ed Osmond)

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