Euro 2016 team profile: Albania

Sport360 staff 22:29 05/06/2016
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  • Albania.

    After finishing bottom of their group in Euro 2012 qualifying and second-bottom in their bid to reach the 2014 World Cup, few would have tipped Albania to reach their first major tournament in 2016. But a shock victory over Portugal in their opening qualifier saw the Shqiponjat (Eagles) take flight and Gianni De Biasi’s side continued to soar all the way to a second-place finish in Group I, ahead of former continental champions Denmark.

    Aside from the Portugal victory and a historic friendly triumph over France, it was an emotional and politically charged away clash with Serbia that received the most attention during the campaign. After a drone with a pro-Albania flag flew over the stadium in Belgrade, home fans invaded the pitch and attacked Albanian players. The match was abandoned and Albania were awarded a 3-0 win, the three points providing a vital boost to their qualification hopes.

    De Biasi spoke afterwards about the impact the match had on his players, revealing: “I was fully aware that my players were tense. Some told me they had lost relatives in the Serbia-Kosovo war. I know it was difficult for them to stand in that field.” Unifying a talented, wide-reaching Albanian diaspora in Europe, De Biasi has moulded a disciplined team that is tough to break down.

    “When I said Albania could do it, they laughed at me,” De Biasi said after securing qualification, and there is no question he has defied expectations, winning many admirers along the way. Such was the outpouring of public affection for the Italian coach after reaching Euro 2016, Albania’s president offered him citizenship, saying: “Dearest Gianni, words cannot express my gratitude to you”. They are rank outsiders, but have nothing at all to lose.


    Albania’s collective defensive discipline was key in their qualification campaign – with them keeping four clean sheets in eight games. FC Zurich’s Burim Kukeli and Basel’s Taulant Xhaka patrol in front of the back four, while Serie A pair Lorik Cana and Elseid Hysaj provide an assured presence behind. A ferocious work ethic is a manifestation of their superb team spirit.


    Aside from the lack of big tournament experience, it is in attack where Albania are really left wanting. They scored more than one goal in only two of eight qualifiers and six players shared the honour of being top scorer – with one goal each. No player in the squad has more than three international goals to his name. Sokol Cikalleshi usually starts as a lone striker, and he has two in 17 caps.


    The older brother of Arsenal and Switzerland midfielder Granit, Taulant will come face to face with his sibling when the two nations clash in Group A.

    A defender at club level with Basel, Xhaka anchors the Albania midfield on the international stage. An ever present in qualifying, Xhaka played all eight games in The Eagles’ campaign.


    A tricky tournament surely awaits. Likely to finish bottom of their group but they have made a habit of defying expectations recently. Reaching the knockout stages would provide a genuine shock.