Coach: Gianni De Biasi
Colours: Red shirt, black shorts, red socks
v Switzerland (June 11, Lens)
v France (June 15, Marseille)
v Romania (June 19, Lyon)
When UEFA announced that the European Championships would be expanded to feature eight extra teams for the first time this year, a howl of derision swept across the continent. Consequently, Albania, embarking upon the first international tournament in their history, quickly became an emblem for Michel Platini’s apparent favouring of quantity over quality.
Yet, this conveniently ignores the fact that Balkan nation, its population just over two million, have defeated both France and Portugal in the last 18 months while qualifying ahead of Denmark and Serbia. Yes, Albania may be short on stars, but this is a team far greater than the sum of its parts. A case in point: each of their ten goals in qualification was scored by a different player.
How They Got There
“When we started the Euro 2016 qualifiers, no one had even thought about qualifying and getting to second place was just a dream. I am convinced that the Albanian dream does not end here.” 59-year-old Italian coach Gianni De Biasi will never buy a beer in the Balkans again. Granted national citizenship in the wake of the nation’s greatest ever sporting achievement, De Biasi has guided ‘the Eagles’ to their highest ever position in the FIFA rankings since taking charge in 2011.
Through commendable spirit, determination, and no little luck, Albania secured their qualification with a cruise. A 3-0 win in Armenia in matchday eight consigned Denmark to the mercy of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the play-offs. The win in Aveiro will go down in history but there’s no denying the three points Albania gained from ‘the Battle of Belgrade’, the game abandoned after Serbia’s fans invaded the pitch, certainly helped the most unlikely of causes.
v Portugal 0-1 (h), 1-0 (a)
v Denmark 1-1 (h), 0-0 (a)
v Serbia 0-2 (h), 3-0* (a)
v Armenia 2-1 (h), 3-0 (a)
*awarded 3-0 win after match abandoned
2015/16 was rather kind to Elseid Hysaj. The dynamic right-back, who excelled after following Mauricio Sarri from Empoli to Napoli last summer, provides penetration and pace on the wing while Shkelzen Gashi twice topped the goalscoring charts in Switzerland while at Basel.
Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha (Lazio), Alban Hoxha (Partizani Tirana), Orges Shehi (Skenderbeu Korce)
Defenders: Arlind Ajeti (Frosinone), Naser Aliji (Basel), Mergim Mavraj (Cologne), Lorik Cana (Nantes), Elseid Hysaj (Napoli), Ansi Agolli (Qarabag), Frederic Veseli (Lugano)
Midfielders: Ledian Memushaj (Pescara), Ergys Kace (PAOK), Andi Lila (PAS Giannina), Migjen Basha (Como), Odise Roshi (Rijeka), Burim Kukeli (FC Zurich), Ermir Lenjani (Nantes), Taulant Xhaka (Basel), Amir Abrashi (Freiburg)
Forwards: Bekim Bala (Rijeka), Sokol Cikalleshi (Istanbul BB), Armando Sadiku (Vaduz), Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids)