Shqipëri / Shqipëria / Albania
- Capital: Tirana
- Official Languages: Albanian
- Recognised Minority Languages: Aromanian/Vlach, Greek, Macedonian
- Nicknames: Kuq e Zinjtë (The Red and Blacks); Shqiponjat (The Eagles)
- Association: Federata Shqiptare e Futbollit (FSHF)
- FIFA Code: ALB
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Group Stage (2016)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 22nd (August 2015)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 40th (April 2015)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 124th (August 1997)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 136th (December 2011)
- Most Capped Player: Lorik Cana – 93 caps
- Top Scorer: Erjon Bogdani – 18 goals
The Republic of Albania (Republika e Shqipërisë) is situated in the southeast of the European continent, on the western coast of the Balkan peninsula. The country shares a number of land borders with its fellow Balkan neighbours, with Montenegro to its northwest, Kosovo to its northeast, Macedonia to its east, and Greece to its south and southeast, whilst Albania is separated from the Italian region of Apulia to the west by both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas – both parts of the central Mediterrenean Sea. Despite having a long history, Albania managed to regain its independence in 1912 from the crumbling Ottoman Empire, although it wouldn’t be until 1932 when Albania eventually became a full member of FIFA, and eventually becoming one of the founding members of UEFA in 1954.
Albania first competed within official international competitions in the qualification for Euro 1964, and first attempted qualification for the World Cup in the 1966 edition. However, Albania’s participation in the qualification campaigns were sporadic throughout the 1970s due to the political and isolationist policies of the communist regime, and it wouldn’t be until the early 1980s when Albania became more regular members of the European qualification scene. They have yet to qualify for a World Cup having been regarded as one of the lower-ranked sides throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, although their performances have steadily improved throughout the 21st century. Their best performance in qualifying came during the 2018 World Cup when the Shqiponjat finished in third position in their six-team group, having won four and drawing one of their ten-game schedule, and finishing ahead of Israel and Macedonia. Unfortunately they were unable to progress to the playoff round as they finished ten points behind the group runners-up Italy.
Famously, Albania’s best performance in the European Championship came in the 2016 edition – the first Euro tournament that was expanded to 24 teams. Having found themselves as the lowest-seeded team in their tough group alongside Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, and Armenia, the Albanians surprised everyone by finishing as runners-up in the group to automatically qualify for their first-ever major tournament. Placed in another tough group with the hosts France, Switzerland, and Romania, they were unlucky to lose 1-0 to the Swiss in their first game (in a match that famously saw brothers Taulant and Granit Xhaka appear on opposing teams) before agonisingly getting defeated by France 2-0 in their second group game, with Les Bleus’ first goal coming on the 90th minute and their second in the sixth minute of injury time. However, history would be made for the Red & Blacks, when Armando Sadiku 43rd minute strike ensured Albania’s first victory in the Euros with a 1-0 win over Romania and confirmed third place in the group, although they were unable to progress to the knockout stage.
Sadly they were unable to qualify for the 2020 European Championships having finished fourth in their qualifying group behind France, Turkey, and Iceland, and were unfortunate to miss out on obtaining a playoff berth via the UEFA Nations League route. Nonetheless, they have performed admirably in the most recent Nations League campaign, and will be playing in League B in the next edition of the tournament, after finishing top of their League C group and gaining promotion to the second-tier of European football. It also practically confirms them a playoff spot for the 2022 World Cup qualifying, which will also use the Nations League to determine three European qualifiers for the global tournament. They have started brightly in their qualification route for the 2022 World Cup having won two of their first three games and positioned in third place at the time of writing, albeit, just defeating Andorra and San Marino but losing to England, in a group that also containing Hungary and Poland.
Talking about the 2016 European Championship qualifiers who gained promotion to League B in the most recent UEFA Nations League campaign, is the excellent Albanian Football. They are an Italian language Twitter account which reports on all things involving Albanian football, either news coming from the domestic leagues, or from the national team. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @AlbaniaFooty
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
For me there are two, Loro Boriçi and Gianni De Biasi. De Biasi is very simple to explain, he took us to the European Championships for the first time in our history in 2016. For Boriçi, I would like to remember him with this sentence: “first we must not lose, then winning“. It may seem like a nonsense phrase now, but at that time this phrase spread very quickly throughout Europe. Boriçi in 1967 had managed to draw 0-0 with Germany [in the qualifying group rounds for Euro 1968], the year after Die Mannschaft had reached the World Cup final in London. The Albanian team was very young, with the oldest player being just 29-years-old (Boriçi himself was just 45), and after the game, the German coach Helmut Schön said: “I want to congratulate with Albania and my colleague Boriçi“.
Four years later we played against Germany again [during the Euro 1972 qualifiers], this time we lost 1-0. It was a game that was played less defensively by our national team, the coach of Germany spoke again about the side and said, “I want to congratulate with my colleague Boriçi, who has raised the level of his team a lot. Although we won, the draw would’ve been fairer, so i’d agree with the result of 1-1. The Albanians did not score, even if they had more chances than us. If you play like that, every European team will have an hard time playing against you.“
The German newspaper “Veizbeten Kurier” wrote about the match, “We can say that this victory of the Germans was one of the luckiest victories that could have existed after the WW2.“
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
I’d say counting a close past, Armando Sadiku [30-year-old forward with Bolivian club Bolívar] who scored our only goal at the Euros, who isn’t really a legend but he’s well known for that goal [in the 1-0 victory over Romania]. Then there is also Lorik Cana [centre-back, defensive midfielder, or central midfielder who Albania’s record caps holder with 93 appearances], remembered by all for being a legendary leader.
There are certainly others from older times like Panajot Pano (our best player ever for many people, even Franz Beckenbauer said he was one of the best he’s played against), Sokol Kushta from the legendary Flamurtari who beat Barcelona and Partizan Belgrade [during their 1987-88 UEFA Cup run which saw them reach the Last 16 before losing 4-2 on aggregate to Barcelona], at time he was really a symbol, Foto Strakosha…, there are surely others but I can’t say too many as I wasn’t around at that period of time.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Albania currently?
It is most certainly the vice-captain Berat Djimsiti, a 28-year-old centre-back who is currently playing at Atalanta.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
In a word: bad. It might look decent, as we finished first in our UEFA Nations League group and have earned 6 out of 9 points in our World Cup qualifying group so far, but the teams we played against were weak teams, with all respect to them. Our coach [the experienced Italian] Edoardo Reja arrived in 2019, and we haven’t seen anything good from him yet, except a few excuses and a defensive team (5-3-2). The attack doesn’t work, some players (I don’t want to name them) are called up when they don’t deserve it, and Albanian league players aren’t called up for some reason although they deserve it more than others who are called up.
Q. Are there any Albanian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
There are several talents to watch out for:
- Ernest Muçi [20-year-old forward] who plays at Legia Warszawa, arrived in Poland a few months ago, has an incredible technique, is the best talent from an Albanian academy in recent years, and as the English would say, “he’s one of our own“.
- Marash Kumbulla [21-year-old defender] who plays for Roma and had a great breakout season at Hellas Verona in the 19/20 season, although this season has been fluctuating for him, due to injuries, contracting COVID and settling into a new team.
- Armando Broja [19-year-old forward], I think is the most famous in England, he is owned by Chelsea, although during the 20/21 season, he played on loan at Vitesse where he did well. Chelsea’s manager, Thomas Tuchel, wants to try him in the summer pre-season friendlies.
Then there are others like the 17-year-old left-back Mario Mitaj who is already part of AEK Athens’ first team, and Armando Dobra [20-year-old attacking midfielder / winger] of Ipswich Town. There are some a little older than the previously mentioned, but who are good talents, are Keidi Bare, a 23-year-old attacking midfielder at Spanish side Espanyol, and Dejvi Bregu, a 25-year-old winger at KF Teuta, who is playing in Albania and will turn 26 this upcoming season, but together with Muçi, he’s one of the most talented and gifted players to come from Albania’s academies.
Q. Looking at Albania’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance for the national team in your opinion?
This question is quite simple. Certainly in the first place, it would have to be Euro 2016 campaign, while I would also like to remember the 2-1 victory in 2004 against Greece [in the World Cup 2006 qualifying], who had just won the Euros two months previously, and the 1967 draw against Germany. I know that a draw might seem an insignificant result, but for an Albania that was isolated from Europe due to its communist regime, it was something extraordinary! After the game, many fans invaded the field! Naturally, the 1-0 result at the Euros against Romania, is also well remember by us.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
I can’t really answer this question as we’ve always had ups and downs, so there’s no really significant low point which particularly stands out.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Albanian national team?
The best thing is that when the national team does well, everyone is really happy, and parties are extraordinary after that, and both for better and for worse, the emotions are very strong. Among the worst things is that the national team, since De Biasi left, is no longer really performing well. If we can also say so, the federation is not organized too well either.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
This question should be asked to the members of the Tifozat Kuq e Zi (the official Albanian NT Supporters Club), but there is no song that comes to mind in my opinion.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
I haven’t a favourite one, but I do like the 2014/15 home kit, and the white away kit of this year.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Albanian national team?
I think we have a good future. Several talents from England are appearing just now (Broja, Dobra, Anis Mehmeti [20-year-old attacking midfielder currently at Wycombe Wanderers], etc.), while the national league is also producing some good talents (last year, the Albania u21 team, mainly composed of players from the Albanian league, won 5-1 against Austria u21 in their home stadium). Obviously we continue to find and have talents from the Albanian diaspora in Italy, Switzerland, and other countries as well.
All in all, I think that reaching another Euros is not impossible, and, who knows, maybe even qualify for a World Cup!
A massive faleminderit shumë to Albanian Football for answering our questions on the Shqiponjat. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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