Paris (AFP) – Five things about Albania who scored their first goal and won their first game in a major tournament against Romania at Euro 2016 on Sunday:
Sadiku demands game time
Albania’s goalscoring hero Armando Sadiku was FC Zurich’s leading scorer last season when he demanded to go out on loan to get more playing time so he could make it into Albania’s Euro 2016 squad. Zurich coach Sami Hyypia agreed and the centre forward went off to Liechtenstein-based side Vaduz, who play in the Swiss league. He scored twice on his debut and finished the season with 10 goals for his adopted team.
Albania’s 1-0 win over Romania is their biggest night since the national team beat Russia 3-1 in 2003 in a qualifying match for Euro 2004. It was the first game in charge for their German coach of the time, Hans-Peter Briegel. While the national league has tried in vain to grow, more than 200 Albanians now play as professionals in other European leagues.
The Italian job
Not many coaches are decorated with state honours for their work but Gianni De Biasi managed it for steering Albania into the uncharted waters of successful qualification for the European Championship finals in France.
Formerly a journeyman player and coach in Italy, De Biasi, 59, became a dual national last year after obtaining an Albanian passport, as a sign of his love for the country, he said.
Tough Balkan mentality
A mix of native-born Albanians and players from the diaspora recruited by the canny De Biasi, ‘the Eagles’ have a tough Balkan mentality blended with the experience of players in Italy, Germany and Switzerland.
A surprising second spot in the qualifying group behind Portugal, who they beat in a shock away win, saw Albania finish ahead of Denmark who failed to beat them at home or away, and bitter rivals Serbia, who forfeited three points after a riot in Belgrade forced the match to be abandoned.
Hard to beat
Gianni De Biasi’s side play a well-drilled Italian-style counter-attacking game, often ‘parking the bus’ to stifle the opposition, a tactic which rarely leads to more than a single goal conceded.
The team’s defensive spine consists of Lazio goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, Napoli defender Elseid Hysaj, and captain and Nantes stalwart Lorik Cana, formerly of Lazio and, with more than 90 appearances to his name, the country’s most capped player.