Five things to know about Albania who make their major tournament debut at Euro 2016 in Group A against France, Romania and Switzerland.

The Italian job

Not many coaches are decorated with state honours for their work but Gianni De Biasi managed it for steering Albania into the uncharted waters of successful qualification for the European Championship finals in France.

Formerly a journeyman player and coach in Italy, De Biasi, 59, became a dual national last year after obtaining an Albanian passport, as a sign of his love for the country, he said.

Tough Balkan mentality

A mix of native-born Albanians and players from the diaspora recruited by the canny De Biasi, 'the Eagles' have a tough Balkan mentality blended with the experience of players in Italy, Germany and Switzerland.

A surprising second spot in the qualifying group behind Portugal, who they beat in a shock away win, saw Albania finish ahead of Denmark who failed to beat them at home or away, and bitter rivals Serbia, who forfeited three points after a riot in Belgrade forced the match to be abandoned.

Hard to beat

Gianni De Biasi's side play a well-drilled Italian-style counter-attacking game, often 'parking the bus' to stifle the opposition, a tactic which rarely leads to more than a single goal conceded.

The team's defensive spine consists of Lazio goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, Napoli defender Elseid Hysai, and captain and Nantes stalwart Lorik Cana, formerly of Lazio and, with 90 appearances to his name, the country's most capped player.

Goal shy

Albania's bunker-style tactics can backfire if the defence is breached early in a game, as happened during the Euro 2016 warm-up against Austria in March when they shipped two goals in the first 15 minutes.

Mostly dependent on set-pieces and shots from distance for scoring, their lack of firepower was shown up by just seven goals in five qualifier games. Five of those goals came against bottom-placed Armenia.

They scored twice against Luxembourg in another recent friendly but only after their opponents had a man sent off.

Surprises unlikely

As unfancied long shots with nothing to lose, Albania are a potential banana skin for Euro 2016 Group A rivals and tournament hosts France who they beat 1-0 in a home friendly last year.

To progress from the group however a win against Switzerland or Balkan rivals Romania is essential as well as more likely.

That may hinge on De Biasi risking youngsters like Greek side PAOK's midfielder Ergys Kace, 22, or winger Milot Rashica, 19, whose mazy runs have impressed fans of Dutch outfit Vitesse Arnhem this season.


Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha (Lazio/ITA), Alban Hoxha(Partizani Tirana), Orges Shehi (Skenderbeu Korce) Defenders: Arlind Ajeti (Frosinone/ITA), Naser Aliji (Basel/SUI), Mergim Mavraj (Cologne/GER), Lorik Cana (Nantes/FRA), Elseid Hysaj (Napoli/ITA), Ansi Agolli (Qarabag/AZE), Frederic Veseli (Lugano/SUI)

Midfielders: Ledian Memushaj (Pescara/ITA), Ergys Kace (PAOK/GRE), Andi Lila (PAS Giannina/GRE), Migjen Basha (Como/ITA), Odise Roshi (Rijeka/CRO), Burim Kukeli (FC Zurich/SUI), Ermir Lenjani (Nantes/FRA), Taulant Xhaka (Basel/SUI), Amir Abrashi (Freiburg/GER)

Forwards: Bekim Bala (Rijeka/CRO), Sokol Cikalleshi (Istanbul BB/TUR), Armando Sadiku (Vaduz/LIE)), Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids/USA)