Despite being one of the founding members of UEFA, Euro 2016 will be Albania’s first ever major tournament. The relative minnows have put together a savvy squad recruited from the diaspora of Albanian immigrants across Europe amassing a squad with players from leagues in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and France.
How They Qualified: A convincing 3-0 victory over Armenia sealed second place in Group I as they won four out of their eight games while remaining undefeated on the road. There were numerous high (and low) points in qualification as Albania defeated group-winners Portugal in Lisbon 1-0, drew with the Denmark home and were awarded a 3-0 forfeit away victory in Belgrade by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after a brawl between the players. The fight sparked an already murderous atmosphere inside the stadium into a pitch invasion and riot.
Nickname: Shqiponjat (The Eagles)
Coach: Gianni De Biasi.
The Italian and former journeyman midfielder has already been awarded Albania’s highest civil honor, The Honor of National Order, for qualifying for the tournament and even took citizenship in 2015. Took the managerial reins during a spell with Torino, where he picked up the pieces after bankruptcy and lifted the Granata back in to Serie A in 2005. Also coached with Levante and Udinese.
Key Man: Lorik Cana.
The Nantes centre back has experience in England with Sunderland, Turkey with Galatasaray and Italy with Lazio. Cana’s wealth of experience will be key in managing the side on the field against some largely, more experienced sides in Group A.
One To Watch: Rey Manaj.
The young striker has drawn comparisons with none other than the outspoken Zlatan Ibrahimovic in both playing style and personality. Some of his more unfavorable traits have brought conflict with coaches and referees alike. Now at Inter Milan after costing the Italian giants €1 million in July 2015.
June 11, 9 a.m. vs. Switzerland
June 15, 3 p.m. vs. France
June 19, 3 p.m. vs. Romania
Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha (Lazio), Alban Hoxha (Partizani), Orges Shehi (Skenderbeu).
Defenders: Elseid Hysaj (Napoli), Lorik Cana (Nantes), Arlind Ajeti (Frosinone), Mergim Mavraj (Koeln), Naser Aliji (Basel), Ansi Agolli (Karabag), Frederik Veseli (Lugano).
Midfielders: Ermir Lenjani (Nantes), Andi Lila (Giannina), Migjen Basha (Como), Ledian Memushaj (Pescara), Burim Kukeli (Zurich), Taulant Xhaka (Basel), Ergys Kace (Paok), Amir Abrashi (Freiburg), Odise Roshi (Rijeka).
Forwards: Bekim Balaj (Rijeka), Sokol Cikalleshi (Medipol Basaksehir), Armando Sadiku (Vaduz), Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids).