Daniele De Rossi’s penalty and a Ciro Immobile header gave Italy the 2-0 victory over Albania, but play was suspended due to visiting fans throwing fireworks.
The Azzurri opted for a 4-2-4 formation with Lorenzo Insigne and Antonio Candreva on the wings, Daniele De Rossi partnering Marco Verratti in midfield. Above all, it was captain Gigi Buffon’s 1,000th professional match in all competition. Italian Coach Gianni De Biasi sang both anthems before kick-off ahead of this first ever competitive meeting between the nations, as the Nazionale earned a 1-0 friendly win in November 2014. Etrit Berisha and Berat Djimsiti were suspended, but several players based in Italy started at the Stadio Barbera in Palermo.
Albania almost scored within 40 seconds, as they countered en masse and Sokol Cikalleshi’s angled drive flashed wide from a very promising position.
However, Italy slowly got into the groove and Andrea Belotti was hauled down by Bari midfielder Migjen Basha. De Rossi kept his cool to place the well-taken penalty into the near bottom corner, sending Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha the wrong way. It was his 20th Azzurri goal, putting him joint 12th in the all-time charts with Paolo Rossi. It was also the first goal Albania had conceded after six away qualifiers.
Odise Roshi got away from Andrea Barzagli to test Buffon, while Belotti nodded a corner wide and Ansi Agolli risked a second yellow card for his late tackle on Davide Zappacosta.
Lorenzo Insigne’s free kick was just beyond Leonardo Bonucci at the far post, while De Rossi nodded a corner over the bar.
Verratti sent Belotti clear and his ferocious shot was palmed out from under the bar by Strakosha. Roshi remained dangerous down the Albanian left and curled over the bar from just inside the box.
After the restart Belotti battled to win back possession and Verratti sent Immobile through, but his shot was charged down by Ajeti’s arm. It was a ricochet from point-blank range, so no penalty was given.
The Albania fans had already been warned not to keep throwing fireworks on to the pitch, but continued to hurl dozens and it made play impossible. On 57 minutes, the referee walked off with the two teams for eight minutes while captain Agolli appealed to the small group to stop. It’s reported one smoke-bomb also injured a steward.
Antonio Candreva stung Strakosha’s gloves from distance and while the goalkeeper got down well for a one-handed save on Belotti, it wouldn’t have counted due to an Immobile handball in the build-up.
Candreva took advantage of a defensive error to force a desperate Strakosha save from point-blank range and Davide Zappacosta’s chest and volley was off target.
Italy did find a way through when the impressive Zappacosta’s cross found Immobile for a looping header steered in off the inside of the far post.
The Azzurri remain joint top of the group with Spain after their 4-1 win over Israel, but trail on goal difference.
Italy 2-0 Albania
De Rossi pen 12 (I), Immobile 71 (I)
Italy: Buffon; Zappacosta, Barzagli, Bonucci, De Sciglio; De Rossi, Verratti; Candreva, Belotti, Immobile, Insigne
Albania: Strakosha; Hysaj, Ajeti, Veseli, Agolli; Lila (Sadiku 68), Basha (Latifi 88), Kukeli, Memushaj, Roshi (Grezda 78); Cikalleshi
Ref: Vincic (SVN)