Albania play their first ever match in a major tournament when they face Switzerland in Lens in the second match of the 2016 European Championships on Saturday.
Gianni De Biasi’s side are the lowest ranked team in the competition (42) and finished second in qualifying behind Portugal in Group I – above the likes of Denmark and Serbia despite only scoring seven goals – although they were helped by being given a 3-0 victory against the latter, after the match in Belgrade was abandoned because of trouble on and off the pitch.
Despite France’s presence in Group A and Les Bleus being one of the favourites to win Euro 2016, Albania will believe that they can provide stiff opposition to the Swiss and their other opponent this summer – Romania – as they look to progress to the next round.
Although they are more than 500 miles apart, this clash is seen as something of a derby, with 10 of Albania’s players being born in Switzerland or growing up there, while six Swiss players have family links to Albania and Kosovo, including new Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka.
Incredibly, Granit could come up against brother Taulant on Saturday afternoon, and if they do it will be the first time that two siblings have faced each other in this tournament.
Switzerland finished second behind England in their Euro 2016 qualifying group, but have a poor record at the European Championships finals, winning just one of their nine matches at the competition, losing six of those.
One of their key players is Stoke City forward Xherdan Shaqiri, who has scored 17 goals in 53 caps, including a hat-trick against Honduras at the 2014 World Cup.
Albania have yet to beat Switzerland in the six previous meetings between the two nations – losing five – and Shaqiri scored in both qualifying matches between these two teams for the last World Cup in Brazil.
De Biasi will have to decide whether to pick in-form striker Armando Sadiku instead of Sokol Cikalleshi, while Taulant Xhaka should be available after playing 45 minutes in his nation’s last warm-up game.
For Switzerland, Stephan Lichtsteiner will captain the team in the absence of Gokhan Inler, who was left out of the final squad after spending the majority of the season on Leicester City’s substitutes’ bench.
FIFA World Ranking: Albania – 42nd; Switzerland – 15th
Best European Championship Finish: Albania – Never qualified; Switzerland – Group Stage (1996, 2004 & 2008)
Previous Meeting: Albania 1-2 Switzerland (October 11, 2013 – 2014 World Cup Qualifying)
Form: Albania – WWDLLW; Switzerland – WLWWLL
Key Men: Albania – Lorik Cana; Switzerland – Sheridan Shaqiri
Shoot Says: Albania 0-1 Switzerland