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EURO 2024 Preview: Ambitious Albania look to spring a surprise in tough Group B

Inter's Kristjan Asllani is Sylvinho's mind on the pitch
Inter's Kristjan Asllani is Sylvinho's mind on the pitchProfimedia
With a healthy contingent of players based in Europe's top leagues, Albania go to Germany for just their second appearance at the European Championship as no pushovers. However, faced with arguably the toughest group of all, they will be rank outsiders to progress to the knock-out stage.

Sylvinho's men hope to impress

Albania's coach Sylvinho goes to Euro 2024 in Germany with the ambition of a man, and a team, who want to impress. 

"It is an honour to be the coach of Albania. Many people have helped me and we have done a fantastic job, culminating in the realisation of our dream of qualifying for Euro 2024," the Brazilian coach said just a few days ago.

With an average age of 27.1 years, Albania qualified for the tournament after consistently steady progress in their group. In eight matches they lost just once, and achieved four victories with an average of one and a half goals per match, capitalising on their chances to win a qualifying group which contained fellow tournament qualifiers the Czech Republic and Poland.

Group B
Group BFlashscore

A cherished leader

Sylvinho was appointed Albania's head coach in January 2023 after having previously been both Roberto Mancini's assistant at Inter and then Tite's assistant for the Brazilian national team.

He then went out on his own and coached Lyon for eleven games in 2019/20 before being sacked and then spent a stint at the helm of Corinthians.

After being appointed by Albania, he repeated Gianni De Biasi's feat of eight years prior by taking the Red and Blacks to the finals of the European Championship. For this, Albanian Premier Edi Rama, a great football fan, awarded the coach the country's highest honour.

"This feeling that I have created with the Albanian people is beautiful," was the comment of the Brazilian, who was visibly emotional that day and then moved permanently to Tirana, together with his assistant Doriva: "In Albania, I live well and work better."

Sylvinho is so loved in Tirana that on December 18th, the president of the Republic, Bajram Begaj, signed the decree granting the coach Albanian citizenship.

Strengths & weaknesses

The true strength of the side is the collective because there is no real star man. There are no players from the Albanian league and it is clubs from Serie A, LaLiga, the Premier League and Bundesliga that supply this national team.

The Serie A presence is the squad both remarkable and the strength of the side. Etrit Berisha and Adrian Ismajli (Empoli), Berat Djimsiti (Atalanta), Nedim Bajrami and Marash Kumbulla (Sassuolo), Elseid Hysaj (Lazio), Kristjan Asllani (Inter), Medon Berisha and Ylber Ramadani (Lecce) all play in Italy's top flight.

On the other hand, Frosinone striker Marvin Cuni, who had preferred Albania to the German youth team, was excluded from the list for the European Championships. But Sylvinho's real surprise exclusion was Myrto Uzuni, who scored 11 goals in LaLiga for Granada.

Up front, the coach will rely on South Korean-based Jasir Asani, a player with great shooting ability, and on Armando Broja who is perenially on the verge of exploding at Chelsea but whom the Blues always send out on loan elsewhere - this season he was at Fulham.

Also powering Albania will be the enthusiasm of their fans, who promise to be numerous in Germany, a country where there is a large Albanian community that is guaranteed to be heard in full voice.

On the pitch, players like Bajrami and Asllani will be Sylvinho's 'mind' on the pitch and the coach is capable of transmitting his character to the team from the sidelines.

Formation & tactics

Sylvinho's preferred formation is 4-3-3 but the coach will also switch to a 4-2-3-1 if the situation requires it. It is very likely that, facing group rivals of the calibre of Italy, Spain and Croatia, it will be the latter that the Brazilian coach will go for in those matches.

Probable formation (4-2-3-1): Thomas Strakosha; Hysaj, Ismajli, Djimsiti, Mario Mitaj; Ramadani, Asllani; Asani, Bajrami, Seferi; Broja.

Albania's most recent starting XI
Albania's most recent starting XIFlashscore

One of the first players to speak in a press conference from Albania's training camp was Lazio's Hysaj, ahead of their opener against the Azzurri: "We are a young team with important players, we know the qualities of Italy that cannot be hidden. We have to stay calm and not do anything crazy on the pitch."

An Italian job

In recent years, the national team has been managed by Italians De Biasi, Edoardo Reja and Christian Panucci. What's more, for the last seven years, an Italian has been working in Albania who has changed the way of recruiting players to the national team. That is Alarico Rossi.

A 38-year-old from Tuscany, Rossi arrived as a match analyst with Panucci and is the creator of a series of innovations in the national team, including an ad hoc algorithm for the selection of players, which have paid off. 

Prediction

Placed in group B with Spain, Croatia and Italy, Sylvinho's Albania will have a tough task but will not be there to simply make up the numbers: "I like the competitive spirit and the winning mentality of this team," their coach said.

"We are building something very important, but we still have a long way to go. But, believe me, we will also do well in Germany."

And with just days to go until they face Italy in Dortmund, the first match in Group B of Euro 2024, there is already great anticipation for this 'derby' between two historically friendly countries, which are now increasingly close, and which in Germany both have numerous fans.

To be in Germany is already a great success for Albania, anything else, be it a victory or an incredible qualification for the round of 16, would be the icing on the cake.

Albania's upcoming fixtures
Albania's upcoming fixturesFlashscore

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