Euro 2016: What to expect from Albania in their major debut

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 10, 2016 10:16

Euro 2016: What to expect from Albania in their major debut

Story Highlights

  • Expectations remain mixed as Albania face a tough group with hosts France and Switzerland favorites to make it to the play-off stage but Albania is hoping for another surprise, inspired by the latest success of Leicester in the Premier League and neighboring Greece more than a decade ago when they were crowned European champions against all odds

Related Articles

TIRANA, June 6 – Two years ago when Albania was drawn against Portugal, Denmark, Serbia and Armenia in the qualifying campaign, nobody thought the Red & Blacks would do better than their usual bottom or second from bottom ranking. Now it’s a dream come true and underdogs Albania are making their first-ever appearance in a major tournament such as Euro 2016 in France after a historic direct qualification from a tough group.

Expectations remain mixed as Albania face a tough group with hosts France and Switzerland favorites to make it to the play-off stage but Albania is hoping for another surprise, inspired by the latest success of Leicester in the Premier League and neighboring Greece more than a decade ago when they were crowned European champions against all odds.

A new regulation allowing the four best third-placed teams to advance to the round of 16 when it becomes a knockout competition also increases Albania’s chances of progressing from the group stage.

Albania’s Italian coach Gianni De Biasi says low pressure will be an advantage for Albania who have already claimed a historic qualification “We will play the same as we have done until now although we lag behind in ranking. Playing the group matches will be something amazing for us,” he says.

Albania beat modest Luxembourg and Qatar, but lost to Austria and Ukraine in its four Euro 2016 warm-up games during the past two months, in fixtures unveiling Albania has a lot to improve ahead of its historic European championship debut this weekend especially when it comes to defense which was one of its strengths in the Euro qualifying campaign.

Captain Lorik Cana, who grew up as a professional player in France, says the participation in a major competition such as the Euros is now a dream come true.

“Representing your country and your people gives you a feeling that is very difficult to describe. It’s something that makes you proud – especially when you have tried so hard all these years to achieve something big – but at the same time it gives you a sense of responsibility. We will try to show people what we stand for on and off the field, and that starts with me, the captain. I have to be ready,” he told UEFA.com.

Asked about Albania’s targets and expectations, the captain who has played with Paris SG, Marseille and Nantes in the French Ligue 1, said “Every team will go there to win, and Albania’s target is the same. Whether that’s possible, and what our chances are, is something else. We want to play our game and demonstrate the values we’ve shown for the last few years, the things which helped us qualify.”

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 has recently moved to Arsenal from German club Borussia Monchengladbach, will likely 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.

“It is a very special match for me and the family. To play against each other is absolutely the last thing we could wish for,” says Granit Xhaka, Arsenal’s new signing about his elder brother, Taulant.

“We have faced each other before, back when I was at Basel and my brother was on loan at Grasshopper Zürich. At the time, it was a very strange feeling, but nevertheless, we are both looking forward to the game, and we are professional enough to not let our close relationship be a factor in the match. May the best team win!” Xhaka told Dailycannon.com.

More than half of the final 23-men squad De Biasi has called up 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.

 

Group stage

 June 11, 15:00

Albania – Switzerland

  • Albania make their major tournament debut in Group A
  • Their record in six internationals against Switzerland is W0 D1 L5
  • Albania’s Taulant Xhaka could face his brother, Switzerland midfielder Granit

June 15, 21:00

France – Albania

  • Albania drew 1-1 with France in Rennes and triumphed 1-0 at home in recent friendlies
  • Les Bleus won the four previous meetings with a goal difference of +10
  • France are unbeaten in their last four competitive games in Marseille (W3 D1)

June 19, 21:00

Romania – Albania

  • Albania have faced Romania 16 times, more than any other nation (W2 D4 L10)
  • Romania have yet to lose in eight competitive meetings with Albania (W6 D2 L0)
  • The teams contested a pair of 1-1 draws in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying
Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 10, 2016 10:16