Euro 2016 team-by-team guide: Everything you need to know about Albania
Kevin Palmer gives us the lowdown on Albania.
Tournament odds: 300/1
Group A fixtures:
- June 11th vs Switzerland in Lens
- June 15th v France in Marseille
- June 19th vs Romania in Lyon
COACH: Gianni De Biasi
Hailed as one of the primary reasons why Albania have shed their tag as international hopers to take their place at Euro 2016, this former Palermo and Brescia midfielder has made the Albania national team tough to beat since assuming control in 2011.
Conceding just five goals in their eight qualifying games, a team that were whipping boys on the international stage not so long ago will not try to outscore their rivals in France this summer, with their safety first approach making them a tough obstacle for the host nation, Romania and Switzerland to navigate.
STAR MAN: Sokol Cikalleshi (Istanbul BB)
The first choice striker in the Albanian line-up, he is a tireless worker at the helm of this team and has also shown a killer instinct when chances come his way.
His well-travelled career has seen him ply his club trade in Turkey, Croatia and South Korea and he has been something of a favourite of Albania coach De Biasi since his first call-up in mid-2014. Cikalleshi has yet to prove he has the scoring power to trouble Europe’s top defenders.
LOOK OUT FOR: Ledian Memushaj (Pescara)
A key figure in the heart of the Albanian midfield, Memushaj has played out his entire career in Italian football and he offers a flash of class as well as a hard work ethic that served his nation well in the qualifying campaign.
Coach De Biasi has given chances to players who were previously being overlooked by Albania and this 29-year-old has delivered in the grand manner to earn his first crack in a major international tournament.
WILD CARD: Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids)
A prolific goal scorer with Grasshopper Zurich and FC Basel, this forward was capped by Switzerland at junior international levels before declaring to play for Albania in 2013.
He made his international debut against Switzerland and scored his first goal for his adopted nation in the Euro 2016 qualifier against Armenia in March 2015. He is currently a team-mate of Republic of Ireland striker Kevin Doyle at MLS side Colorado Rapids, Gashi can play as support striker or in a role on the right wing.
VERDICT: Qualified for a major tournament for the first time in their history, coach De Biasi and his squad will travel to France carrying the hopes of their nation and yet reality is likely to bite hard in the heat of tournament action.
Albania are favourites to finish rock bottom of Group A, and while they could pick up 0-0 draws against Switzerland and Romania, they are likely to be back home before their postcards from Euro 2016 are delivered.