Albania have qualified for Euro 2016 which will mark the first major tournament appearance in the country’s history.
The Eagles have been on the rise in the previous seven qualifying campaigns where they have not finished on the bottom of their groups and if not for a poor finish to the lead up of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, they might have made it through to the second placed team playoff position.
Albania finished second in group I and secured automatic qualification alongside Portugal. They finished on 14 points with four wins, two draws and two losses with two points separating them from third placed Denmark.
The other two teams in the group, Serbia and Armenia, both struggled and there was an eight-point gap between third and fourth. With such a large buffer it was a fairly easy qualification group for Gianni De Biasi’s men.
The Albanians were on the receiving end of a ruling from the Court of Arbitration of Sport after their match with Serbia was abandoned. Players were attacked by Serbian home supporters that invaded the pitch. UEFA ruled that with the game was forfeited by Serbia and awarded a 3-0 win to Albania.
They were able to pull an upset on the first matchday with a 1-0 win away from home against Portugal, after a 52nd minute goal from Bekim Balaj really got their qualification off to a great start.
Despite being a founding member of UEFA this is the first major tournament they have qualified for, having a history of winning games when the cause had already been lost. Albania faced off against Denmark at the final stage of qualifiying for the 1964 European Nations Cup and despite winning the second leg 1-0 the damage was already done by the Danes when they won the first leg 4-0.
It a happened again four years later when after they were eliminated they showed quality by holding West Germany to a 0-0 draw and denying them a finals places for the only time in their history. In the 2008 qualifying they collected their highest points total at the time with 11, although they still missed qualification with a 15-point gap between them and the second placed Netherlands.
One of the key strengths is their midfield, which has served them well in the qualification campaign that got them to France 2016. In Sokol Cikalleshi they have a player who will work his hardest for the team and also has a killer instinct when given the opportunity going forward.
Ledian Memushaj is a key figure in the heart of the midfield and again it centres around a hard work ethic, but he also possess flashes of class that served his nation well in qualifying for these Finals.
The one thing that really is working against them is the lack of experience that the team has playing on the big stage at the biggest tournaments. They only have around four names that feature for teams in top leagues, with players in Italy and Switzerland at the likes of Lazio and Basel.
The other thing that will prove to be a hurdle for Albania is who they have been grouped with. They will be facing off against host nation France who they have played six times before and Switzerland, who in the six previous meetings they have never beaten.
Prediction – Group Stage exit
Given that they will have to beat to larger teams who they have relatively no success against unsurprisingly, it seems difficult that they will finish higher than fourth in the group, but if they were able to get a result against Romania that would go down as a success for the team.