Sampdoria striker Stefano Okaka scored on his Italy debut for a 1-0 friendly victory over Albania in Genoa.
This friendly was the first time the nations had ever met on a football field and was organised at Marassi to raise funds for those affected by recent floods in the city of Genoa. Antonio Conte used an experimental line-up with Torino’s Emiliano Moretti and Genoa midfielder Andrea Bertolacci getting their debuts, while Luca Antonelli and Lorenzo De Silvestri were also in their ‘home’ stadium. Albania are coached by Italian Gianni De Biasi with Lorik Cana, Etrit Berisha and Elseid Hysaj plying their trade in Serie A.
Well over half the 25,000 tickets sold were to Albanian fans, but many of them sang the Italian anthem before kick-off.
Alessio Cerci made his first appearance since the World Cup and after 11 minutes forced a save out of Berisha at the near post, then the Lazio goalkeeper intercepted his pull-back for Sebastian Giovinco.
Giovinco skipped past Cana and Marco Parolo finished the move, firing straight at Berisha. Cerci pulled a free kick back for the unmarked Giovinco, who horribly scuffed his shot.
Mattia Destro’s fierce angled drive skimmed the base of the upright, but Albania went closest to breaking the deadlock. A terrible Lorenzo De Silvestri error let Sokol Cikalleshi through and his screamer cannoned off the woodwork, then Ledian Memushaj fired the follow-up off target.
Moments later Bertolacci’s rising strike from the edge of the box was palmed out from under the bar. Cikalleshi showed a great first touch to get away from De Silvestri, his long-ranger smothered by Salvatore Sirigu, while on the stroke of half-time Cerci’s curler was palmed out for a corner by Berisha.
There was a double howler after the restart. First Giovinco poked a weak finish straight at the goalkeeper, then moments later Sirigu’s poor clearance was gifted to Ermir Lenjani, but he hesitated and allowed the PSG man to recover.
Giovinco had two efforts charged down for corners in quick succession and tested Berisha with a free kick. It should’ve been 1-0 on the hour mark when Cerci sent Destro clear on goal, but the Roma striker stroked his finish wide of the far post.
Debutant Moretti’s defensive error let Lenjani through, but Sirigu just about palmed the finish away. Sampdoria’s Stefano Okaka made his senior Italy debut in a new partnership with Genoa forward Alessandro Matri.
Sirigu punched away a Memushaj free kick that bounced awkwardly, while Okaka spun round from six yards to force a tricky reaction save out of Berisha.
Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin also made his Azzurri debut, but play was three times in quick succession interrupted by Albanian pitch invaders trying to get their flag autographed by Cana or to kiss Lenjani.
There was also a very special moment for Sassuolo defender Francesco Acerbi, who made his Azzurri debut just months after being given the all-clear for testicular cancer.
Italy took the lead with eight minutes on the clock at Marassi, as a Bonaventura corner found Okaka’s glancing header – and a big deflection off Hamdi Salihi – to fly into the far top corner. It was a perfect way for the Sampdoria striker to mark his debut.
Italy 1-0 Albania
Scorers: Okaka 82 (I)
Italy: Sirigu (Perin 71); De Silvestri, Bonucci (Acerbi 81), Moretti, Antonelli; Cerci (Gabbiadini 76), Aquilani, Parolo, Bertolacci (Bonaventura 71); Destro (Okaka 65), Giovinco (Matri 65)
Albania: Berisha; Hysaj (Ajeti 74), Cana, Mavraj, Agolli; Lila, Abrashi (Shala 71), Kukeli (Roshi 66), Memushaj, Lenjani (Balaj 86); Cikalleshi (Salihi 78)
Ref: Harkham (AUT)