Albania’s initial Euro 2016 squad sparks debate

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 23, 2016 14:59

Coach Gianni De Biasi

TIRANA, May 23 - The preliminary 27-men squad coach Gianni De Biasi has announced ahead of Albania's historic Euro 2016 participation has sparked concerns about several key players in top shape this season who have been left out. Striker Hamdi Salihi who helped Skenderbeu claim its sixth straight Albanian Superliga title with 28 goals and had a key role in the first-ever participation of an Albanian team in the Europa League this season has been surprisingly left out. Similarly, Alban Meha who also shone with Konyaspor in Turkish Super League this season and talent Rey Manaj who plays Inter Milan have been left out.

Italian-born De Biasi, who has been dubbed a national hero following Albania's first-ever qualification in a major football competition, has taken full responsibility for his choices.

"I have compiled the list on my own, in my full conviction and under nobody's influence. I have sent a letter to the players, clearly explaining to them why they have been selected to be part of a team and we'll play as a team the same as we have done until now," De Biasi told a news conference.

The Italian coach who has also obtained Albanian citizenship will announce the final 23-men squad on May 30, one day after the friendly with Qatar.

Reacting to De Biasi's decision, Salihi said he was disappointed.

"I wasn’t notified and I had a feeling about this, although I was hopeful I'd be part of the team until the last moment as I believe I met all the necessary criteria to be called up with the performance I had," said Salihi.

"This was my biggest dream and I am sorry it wasn't my feet which left me out but something else and other people,” he added, implying De Biasi could have been influenced in his decision.

Thirty-one year-old striker Salihi who has been part of the national side for the past decade,  scoring 11 goals has not been one of De Biasi's attacking favourites in the past couple of years.

Asked about Salihi’s absence in the Euro 2016, De Biasi earlier said the team needed players with other characteristics.

Speaking about the two upcoming friendlies, the coach said the friendly with Ukraine will be a key test.

"We are tough as many times we fear our opponents and when we think we are superior we risk making performances I don't like," he said.

Albania will play Euro qualified Ukraine in its fourth scheduled friendly as part of the Euro 2016 warm-up games on June 3 in Italy’s Bergamo in a friendly expected to attract huge numbers of fans considering hundreds of thousands of Albanian migrants in Italy and in neighbouring countries.

The June 3 friendly with a tough opponent such as Ukraine, having also previously participated in World Cup and European championships, will be played after another friendly with modest Qatar in Austria on May 29.

Last March, Albania lost 2-1 to Austria and beat modest Luxembourg 2-0 in the first two Euro 2016 warm-up friendlies, in two matches which showed Albania still has a lot to improve ahead of its historic European championship debut next June especially when it comes to defense which was one of its strengths in the Euro qualifying campaign.

Albania will face hosts France, Switzerland and Romania in Group A of the Euro 2016 in a bid to make another surprise campaign after a historic qualification as an outsider.

Albania will make its first-ever appearance in a major football competition on June 11, 2016 against Switzerland in what is considered a derby as the Albanian side features as many as seven Swiss-born players while five of the Swiss internationals have Albanian roots.

Swiss international of Kosovo roots Granit Xhaka   who plays as midfielder for German club Borussia Mà¶nchengladbach, will face his elder brother, Basel defender and Albanian international Taulant Xhaka, registering the first case two brothers play on opposite teams in a European cup. A similar case happened in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups when the Boateng brothers faced each other in the Germany-Ghana fixtures.

Fifteen of the 27-men in the initial list are of Kosovo roots raising concerns about the future of the Albanian national side now that Kosovo has been accepted as a full UEFA and FIFA member. Although the current players of Kosovo roots are unlikely to leave Albania, younger generations and new promising players will probably pick Kosovo.


Albania's initial 27-men squad:

Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha (Lazio), Alban Hoxha (Partizani), Orges Shehi (Skenderbeu)

Defenders: Arlind Ajeti (Frosinone), Naser Aliji (Basel), Berat Gjimshiti (Atalanta), Mergim Mavraj (Koeln), Amir Rrahmani (Split), Lorik Cana (Nantes), Elseid Hysaj (Napoli), Ansi Agolli (Karabag), Frederik Veseli (Lugano)

Midfielders: Ledian Memushaj (Pescara), Ergys Kace (Paok), Andi Lila (Giannina), Migjen Basha (Como), Odise Roshi (Rijeka), Burim Kukeli (Zurich), Ermir Lenjani (Nantes), Herolind Shala (Slovan Liberec), Taulant Xhaka (Basel), Amir Abrashi (Freiburg)

Forwards: Bekim Balaj (Rijeka), Sokol Cikalleshi (Medipol Basaksehir), Armando Sadiku (Vaduz), Milot Rashica (Vitesse), Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids).

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 23, 2016 14:59