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Euro 2016 profile: Albania buoyant to make tournament debut

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Bookies.com look at their Euro 2016 profile for Albania, with the Adriatic nation among the outsiders in the Group A betting on their tournament debut.

We’re profiling all 24 teams that will be competing in France, so punters will have an expert view as Europe’s finest compete this summer.

This time we focus on Albania, a country that only played their first international in the victorious 1946 Balkans Cup and have come a long way since.

The Eagles face host nation France, Romania and Switzerland in Group A with 888Sport going a best price 9/2 that Albania reach the knockout phase.

History at the Euros: This will be the Adriatic nation’s first appearance at a major tournament and qualified thanks to an impressive campaign, finishing runners-up to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in Qualifying Group I.

During qualification, Albania reached a historic high FIFA ranking of 22nd and started the campaign beating pool winners Portugal in Lisbon. A tumultuous road to the France finals also featured a controversial 0-3 forfeit win against bitter rivals Serbia in a riotous atmosphere.

Head coach: Giovanni De Biasi’s most notable club success came during his time with Torino, leading the side to Serie A promotion in 2006 and subsequently kept them up.

For his achievement with Albania’s national team, the manager and his squad were bestowed the Honor of Nation order, the country’s highest civil honour.

To symbolise his bond with the squad recruited from the Kosovan/Albanian geographic region, Switzerland, Germany and former Yugoslavian states, De Biasi took Albanian citizenship. He is 23/10 with Boylesports to steer the Eagles to a third-place finish in Group A.

Key player: Record cap holder and national captain Lorik Cana will be integral to De Biasi’s team if they hope to experience any sort of success in France.

Now on 90 caps, former Sunderland defensive players Cana was shifted from midfield to centre back where his tactical nous, tackling and superb reading of the game helped the Eagles concede just five in qualifying.

Rising star: 19 year-old Rey Manaj plays for Inter Milan and has drawn comparisons to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Manaj is technically gifted, dangerous in the air and has a rebellious reputation. His dream was to play for the Albanian national team and fulfilled it sensationally, scoring 12 seconds into his debut in an unofficial friendly against Kosovo.

Wild card: Taulant Xhaka is a player to keep an eye on this tournament. Born in Switzerland after his parents moved from Kosovo, Taulant played for the Swiss through most youth international age groups before switching allegiance to Albania. This is contrary to his brother Granit, who stayed with Switzerland and the two will meet each other in the group stage.

Basel’s Xhaka can play as a defensive midfielder or centre back, possesses fantastic tackling and ball-winning qualities and can unleash a ferocious strike.

Confirmed Albania Euro 2016 fixtures:
All kick-offs are British Summer time (BST)
Saturday, June 11th: Albania v Switzerland (14:00); Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens, BBC
Wednesday, June 15th: France v Albania (20:00); Stade Velodrome, Marseille, BBC
Sunday, June 19th: Romania v Albania (20:00); Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon, BBC

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