Albania to play Austria, Luxembourg in Euro 2016 warm-up games

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 23, 2016 16:04

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  • “We have to work hard to show the team spirit which is our best part. We are regarded as the least favourite group team. That's what they thought even in the qualifiers but we made it,” says coach De Biasi about Albania’s Euro 2016 campaign

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By Ervin Lisaku

kombetarjaTIRANA, March 23 - Albania will play friendlies with Austria and modest Luxembourg in the next few days in two warm-up games ahead of its historic Euro 2016 participation.

The national team has been training at a seaside resort in Durres ahead of their away friendlies in Austria on March 26 and Luxembourg three days later.

Albania's Italian-born coach Gianni De Biasi describes the friendlies as key tests for the tough Euro 2016 campaign.

"We have to work hard to show the team spirit which is our best part. We are regarded as the least favourite group team. That's what they thought even in the qualifiers but we made it. It's not because we have the best players but because we have a team who fights and sacrifices. If we do our best, it will be tough for our opponents," said De Biasi.

Earlier this month, De Biasi was given the Special Golden Bench award by the Italian Football Association for his historic achievement of taking Albania to the Euro 2016.

"We will play Austria which is tough team, ranks well in the FIFA World Ranking and has players who are part of important European championships," De Biasi has earlier said.

"We have to prepare well for this match if we want to get positive feedback from the players that are called up," he added.

Striker Sokol Cikalleshi, who has scored some decisive goals with Istanbul Buyuksehir in Turkish top league, is hopeful for a positive result against Austria.

"Both the performance and the result are important. We are in a historic moment and will do our best. The games at the Euro 2016 group are tough, but we'll have surprises," said Cikalleshi.

The 25-year-old striker has been rather unlucky with the national side hitting the woodwork several times. Last November, he scored a long-range injury-time equalizer in the home friendly with Georgia in his first goal with the national side.

The Austria friendly scheduled for March 26 is seen as key test for the national side in a comeback encounter 28 years after the two teams, both qualified for Euro 2016, last faced each other.

Albania has yet to beat Austria who they played six times in the 1980s both in the World Cup and Euro qualifiers, losing all fixtures.

Austria who led Group G in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign ranked 10th in the latest March FIFA World Ranking compared to Albania's 35th out of 204 nations.

Three days later, on March 29 Albania will play modest Luxembourg, having conceded only one defeat in four matches.

Kosovo-born attacking midfielder Milot Rashica is the only surprise of the call-ups after his great recent performances with the Dutch side Vitesse. The 19-year old who has been called up from the Albania U-21 only for the Luxembourg friendly could join Albania in the Euro 2016 campaign.

The football association says it also negotiating for another friendly ahead of the Euro 2016 kick-off after the Qatar fixture on May 29.

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.

Last October, Albania beat Armenia 3-0 to claim direct qualification in the 2016 UEFA European Championship in a decisive last qualifier for the second place in Group I of the Euro qualifiers to avoid play-offs in case of a possible third place.

Group I also featured leaders Portugal, third-placed Denmark and Serbia and Armenia.

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.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 23, 2016 16:04