Albania qualified second in what looked a seemingly tough Qualification Group I, registering 4 Wins, 2 Draws and 2 Losses with a +5 goal difference. The minnows originally started the group as one of the outsiders to qualify, however after a promising start they beat Portugal 1-0 in the first game of their campaign, they seemed to grow in confidence as they also took points from a draw at home to Denmark before a violent clash in Belgrade against Serbia saw them handed a default 3-0 win.
7 more points came, most notably in a battling performance away at Denmark for which they earned a 0-0 draw, which ultimately secured 2nd place in the group and automatic qualification.
Apart from a few disillusioned Albanians there is nobody realistically thinking that a team mostly filled with players from the Albanian Super League are going to make any impact in this tournament. Albania are rank outsiders going into the event at 500/1 and I cannot see any each way tips on the horizon even at that price.
If you were to be positive, this may well be the best team Albania have ever put together, as this is currently the only time they have qualified for a major tournament, but even with an all-time high Fifa World Ranking of 45 they are still the lowest ranked team heading to Euro 2016.
Albania have never qualified for a major tournament however previous qualification campaigns have not ended as badly as this may suggest. In their last 7 campaigns Albania have not finished bottom of their group once and their most recent form before this would also bring confidence.
After impressively getting 7 out of their first 12 points, Albania unfortunately ran into an in form Iceland side and a then highly ranked Swiss team including the infamous Xherdan Shaqiri who netted and ultimately ended Albania's hopes of qualifying.
|10.06.16||20.00||France||2 - 1||Romania|
|11.06.16||14.00||Albania||0 - 1||Switzerland|
|15.06.16||17.00||Romania||1 - 1||Switzerland|
|15.06.16||20.00||France||2 - 0||Albania|
|19.06.16||20.00||Romania||0 - 1||Albania|
|19.06.16||20.00||Switzerland||0 - 0||France|
Group A at Euro 2016 is what will await the Albanian team. Although not a group of death by any means, this may still prove a step to far for what is after all a newly developing team. The group includes France, Switzerland, Romania and Albania. The Les Bleus will no doubt come through the group by beating this Albanian team comfortably, however more competitive affairs are no doubt in store in the games that bookend the group.
Here's a list of the 4 teams drawn in Group A and their FIFA World Ranking, as you can see, Albania are the lowest ranked team, not just in Group A, but in the entire tournament and they seemingly have their work cut out.
Albania v Switzerland may well be more closely contested than most would expect due to Switzerland's seemingly shaky qualifying campaign, but with the star attractions of the aforementioned Shaqiri and their Premier League filled squad, Switzerland may simply possess too much fire power again.
Romania may offer the best chance for Albania's first ever points in an international tournament. At a quick glance through the record books it may appear that Romania struggle to score as they endured 3 consecutive 0-0 draws during the qualification phase, but a team that hasn't dropped points in their whole qualifying campaign only conceding 2 goals have to be respected, and may have too much defensive know how for the rather inexperienced Albanian's. That aside they may earn a hard thought draw and end the tournament with their first point.
An evenly split return from forwards to defenders, 25 year old Bekim Balaj lead the charge from the forward position with 1 goal during qualifying.
Obviously this indicates a lack in attacking options with the low return from the front line.
|Shkelzen Gashi||27||Midfield / Forward||1|
All evidence points towards the men from the Adriatic coast going home early. The biggest thing against Albania has got to be the lack of tournament experience of which all the other teams in Group A possess in abundance. 11-2 to win the first game against Switzerland tells you everything about the hopes of this side with a draw from both that game and the Romania game looking to be the best they can hope for.
Lorik Cana, the captain who had a brief spell at Sunderland in the 09/10 season is probably the outstanding candidate of star players for Albania. He is mostly known in Europe as an established member of the Lazio defence for 4 years and is now a formidable centre back for FC Nantes in the French Ligue 1. His leadership abilities are what holds this team together and without him it's doubtful Albania would have had such a successful run to this tournament.
The Italian Giovanni De Biasi has been head coach of this team since 2011 and his Italian values appear very prominent in the way Albania play their football. This team concentrate mostly on defence with a clean sheet usually taking prominence as they only managed to achieve 7 goals in qualifying, 1 being an own goal and 5 against Armenia. Against tougher opposition at Euro 2016 they may find it a struggle to score with the best chance of a result being a 0-0 draw.