Albania end historic Euro debut, heroes’ welcome underway

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 23, 2016 09:45

Albania end historic Euro debut, heroes’ welcome underway

TIRANA, June 23 – Albania ended their historic debut in a major football tournament in a dramatic disqualification filled with suspense after the national side was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage of the Euro 2016 as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Albania, who collected three points in their group stage fixtures following a victory with Romania and losses against hosts France and Switzerland were punished by their -2 goal difference. Portugal and Northern Ireland made it to the last 16 with three points but a goal difference of zero.

Fans had been anxiously waiting since the Sunday night victory against Romania for a possible qualification that depended on the other games, but the wait time finished on Wednesday after Portugal drew 3-3 with Hungary, leaving Albania mathematically out of the knockout stage.

Despite the unlucky finish, Albania made a historic participation as an emerging tough team who held Switzerland in 10 men for about 60 minutes and could have earned a point with hosts France who scored to late goals.

The victory with Romania and thousands of Albania fans supporting the national side made headlines in international media, praising Albania’s team spirit and unwavering support.

The national side is expected to receive a heroes’ welcome this afternoon as the first generation of players who took Albania’s football to the highest levels.  The Albanian government awarded them Euro 1 million and diplomatic passports following the victory with Romania.

“Albania just closed its best ever football chapter and after being eliminated on goal difference, the Red & Black mission returns home. Let us give our heroes an unforgettable welcome in sign of gratitude and respect for their extraordinary contribution to Albania’s shirts and image,” wrote Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Coach Gianni De Biasi said Albania did not deserve its early disqualification.

“The national side did not deserve the disqualification from the Euros. We paid for the distraction and pressure. I would rate Albania with mark 8 in this European championship and believe me I am quite tough with the marks. They played in the Euros like nobody imagined,” said De Biasi.

Captain Lorik Cana, who is about to withdraw from the national side, said he has never been prouder.

“All this trip was for us, for our families, for all fans and above all for our homeland. I have never been prouder of being part of this national side and playing with these guys,” said Cana.

Albania will now have to think about the Russia World Cup qualifiers and the tough group they face.

Albania will face a tough race in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers after being drawn against four-time World Cup winners Italy and 2010 winners Spain in Group G.

The national side will play its first match at home to neighboring Macedonia on September 5, 2016 before travelling to Liechtenstein on October 6, hosting Spain on October 9.

The Red & Blacks will play at home to Israel on November 12 and travel to Italy on March 14 2017 in the first round of group matches.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 23, 2016 09:45