May 13, 2016

    Albania are long shots but can cause upsets


    ALBANIA will make their major tournament debut at Euro 2016 in Group A against France, Romania and Switzerland.

    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 - a sign of his love for the country, he said.

    A surprising second spot in the qualifying group behind Portugal, whom 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.

    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 Hysai and captain and Nantes stalwart Lorik Cana, formerly of Lazio and, with 90 appearances to his name, the country's most capped player.

    As unfancied long shots with nothing to lose, Albania are a potential banana skin for Euro 2016 Group A rivals and tournament hosts France, whom they beat 1-0 in a home friendly last year.

    To progress from the group, however, a win against Switzerland or Balkan rivals Romania is essential as well as more likely.

    That may hinge on de Biasi risking youngsters like Greek side Paok's midfielder Ergys Kace, 22, or winger Milot Rashica, 19.