Albania make Euros and history

Albania's players celebrating their qualification for next year's European Championship after defeating Armenia 3-0 in Yerevan on Sunday. It is the first time the country, with a population of just 2.77 million, has reached a major football tournamen
Albania's players celebrating their qualification for next year's European Championship after defeating Armenia 3-0 in Yerevan on Sunday. It is the first time the country, with a population of just 2.77 million, has reached a major football tournament.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

FA president hails team's 'collective spirit' as they qualify for their 1st major tournament

YEREVAN (Armenia) • Yet another footballing minnow has made it to Euro 2016, following the heroics of Iceland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Albania, population 2.77 million, reached their first-ever major football tournament when a 3-0 away win over Armenia clinched second place in Group I on Sunday, sparking wild celebrations across the country.

The Albanians finished behind group winners Portugal and ahead of Denmark, who will await their play-off fate, in the final group standings to reach the tournament in France.

Portugal, who won 2-1 away to Serbia, have 21 points. Albania have 14 and Denmark, who had finished their matches, 12. Serbia and Armenia finished with four and two points respectively.

Albania went in front after nine minutes thanks to an own goal by Armenia's Kamo Hovhannisyan and they added further goals through defender Berat Djimsiti and substitute Armando Sadiku.

Across Albania and in Kosovo, the mainly ethnic Albania state where some of the players were born, fireworks lit up the sky before the match ended.

People streamed on to the streets after the final whistle, waving flags and driving around town.

"This qualification is historic," Albania Football Association president Armando Duka said.

"We did not deserve the defeats at home (by Portugal in September and Serbia on Thursday). We do not have superstars, but they have heart and a collective spirit."

Referring to the 0-2 home loss to the Serbs, Italian coach Gianni de Biasi said: "It was not easy after the defeat by Serbia. We felt the pressure, but the boys played extremely well. I wish the country grows having these boys as an example.

"Few people believed we could have made it in the beginning, but we all made it. We all contributed to this achievement."

Captain Lorik Cana added: "When I first started playing for Albania 12 years ago, I never thought this day would come but we always tried and now have managed to do it thanks to the willpower of this group, this fine generation of players."

Albania had a roller-coaster qualifying campaign, which included two bruising politically-fragile encounters with Serbia, who beat Albania with two goals in added time.

The previous fixture in Belgrade was abandoned after a drone flying a banner depicting the so-called Greater Albania was flown over the stadium, provoking a brawl among the players and the invasion of the pitch by some Serbian fans.

Albania were given three points on appeal by European football's governing body Uefa.

Said Cana: "Despite beating us on Friday, Serbia will now watch us in France drinking beer in front of the TV."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'ALBANIA MAKE EUROS AND HISTORY'. Print Edition | Subscribe