Albania coach Sylvinho eyes Euro qualification after dream start

Albania coach Sylvinho eyes Euro qualification after dream start
Albania coach Sylvinho on the touchline
Albania coach Sylvinho on the touchline
Sylvinho (49) has taken Albania by storm since becoming national team manager in a shock move in January and the former Arsenal and Barcelona defender will be aiming to guide them closer to a place at Euro 2024 when they host Czech Republic on Thursday.

The Eagles have been one of the biggest surprises of the qualifiers and lead Group E with 10 points from five games, ahead of the Czechs who have eight from four, after a statement 2-0 win over Robert Lewandowski's Poland in September.

The Poles are struggling down in fourth on six points, two points behind Moldova and the Czechs with three games left. Only the top two qualify automatically for the finals in Germany.

Albania's victory ended a streak of eight consecutive losses against Poland and turned Sylvinho into the man of the hour in Albania as soccer fever swept the country ahead of their crunch match against the Czechs in the battle for top spot.

The 21,000 tickets were sold-out within a few hours for the clash at the Air Albania stadium in the capital Tirana.

"We have three finals ahead of us and we need to face each one with the same attitude we had so far. It all starts on Thursday," Sylvinho told Reuters.

After facing the Czech Republic, Albania finish their group games away to Moldova and at home to bottom side the Faroe Islands, who have one point from their five matches.

"We're aware of the enthusiasm of our supporters but the players know that's the external scenario, something we can't control. They are absolutely calm and conscious," he added.

"A win on Thursday would be a major step towards our long-awaited qualification. It is extremely important, but it is still not determinant."

Since Sylvinho's debut in a hard-fought 1-0 loss away to Poland in March, Albania have had three wins and a draw.

Their aggressive attacking style has convinced even the most sceptical fans and pundits, who were split after Albanian FA president Armand Duka announced the Brazilian was taking over.

During a stellar playing career, Sylvinho won multiple titles including two Champions League trophies with Barcelona.

Despite his blockbuster arrival in Tirana with former Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta and ex-Middlesbrough midfielder Doriva as assistant managers, Sylvinho's lack of experience and two brief and disappointing periods at Lyon and Brazilian side Corinthians raised doubts.


It was a bold move by Duka to appoint Sylvinho and a major change in philosophy as Albania's last four managers were all Italian, starting with Gianni De Biasi who led the country to their only major soccer tournament at Euro 2016 in France.

But the doubts had already arguably dissipated despite the defeat in Warsaw back in March.

"We had a real chance to come back with a better result from that game but the most important thing we got from the debut was that we connected with the players and they immediately understood what we wanted," Sylvinho said.

"Sure we want to be a well organised team, score great goals, build-up beautiful plays, but I insist on the idea that this team needs to keep its identity, that is it's fighting spirit.

"The will, the grit and the attitude in every play. That is something that the players understood from the get-go."

Sylvinho believes a big part of him understanding Albania's identity lies in his decision to move to Tirana where he and Doriva have been living since January.

After spending almost three years as Tite's assistant with five-time world champions Brazil, Sylvinho thinks a national team manager needs to stay as close as he can to a country even though most of the players play abroad.

"We have to be here (in Tirana) because it is where our work will be developed," Sylvinho said.

"We travel a lot, meet with the players, but the database that we have from the Albanian FA in Tirana is invaluable. If we weren't here we probably would not have found Jasir Asani."

Sylvinho was referring to the North Macedonia-born winger who plays for South Korean side Gwangju FC and has established himself as a key part of Albania's forward line since making his debut in the starting lineup in March.

Asani has two goals and two assists in his first five games, including a stunning long-range strike that opened the scoring against Poland, named the Goal of the Round by UEFA.

"There are millions of Albanians ... living around the world. We were looking for a right winger that was left-footed and found Asani. We loved what we saw immediately and he has been great for us," Sylvinho said.

"Our philosophy is to attract the players with our work. Leave the results, the project and the structure that we're building to speak for us and touch the heart and soul of the Albanian players abroad so they feel the call to come back home."

Follow Albania's game against Czech Republic with Flashscore.


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