Dreamteam Albania

Albania’s football team is to be congratulated on some very entertaining football, taking the game to their powerful opponents in the most difficult group at UEFA 2024

Group B, the Group of Death. Spain, Italy, Croatia, and…Albania, present in the UEFA finals for only the second time (2016 was the first). Along with everyone else, when I saw the group, I groaned and said “Poor Albania, they are going to get thrashed”. Well, they didn’t. The game against Italy surprised and shocked everyone as the reigning champions were outplayed by a spirited Albania for much of the game, managing to hold on to their 2-.1 lead in a game which Albania should have drawn.

 Spirit and grit

For those who thought this was a fluke, they were wrong. This was already obvious in the first game with Albania’s passing and movement off the ball, the team spirit and what we call grit, saw wave after wave of Albanian attacks, intelligent attacks favouring incursions down both flanks or through the middle, depending on where there were better positioned players with all the Albanian team able to read the game as it developed. The passing was not only intelligent, it was accurate, fast-paced and sophisticated, denoting remarkable maturity.

Again, against Croatia, the 2-2 draw was proof that as a footballing nation, Albania has arrived on a stage which it now shares with any other of the household names, and other teams will forget that at their peril. Last night, against arguably one of the candidates for this year’s competition, Spain, Albania’s 4 shots to Spain’s 3 translates how the game ran and once again we saw a very exciting 90 minutes of football with Albania playing as an equal, fearless, innovative, intelligent. And playing clean football.

This was a tremendous tournament for Albania whose entire football set-up from the Federation to the coaching staff under the Brazilian Sylvinho (teal coach since 2023 only, imagine what he can achieve in future) and of course the players, a mix of youth and experience with an average age of 27.3 years.

Those of us who love sport in general, and football in particular, will look forward to seeing Albania at FIFA in 2026 and again at UEFA in 2028, and to seeing that final pass coming just a little faster before the opponent has had time to mass the defence, those last few seconds seeing the opposing team caught off guard and with the goal a little more open.

With success comes added challenges and if until now teams have underestimated Albania, thinking it will be an easy ride and a key to a thrashing, certainly in future, Albania’s opponents will show them the respect they deserve and even raise their game.

A goal against Spain yesterday may have been enough to see Albania through to the next round, in which other supposedly stronger teams, like England for instance, would have experienced extreme difficulty in playing against them.

All eyes are now on Albania whose spirited, intelligent, skilful, courageous and clean football has earned the team a lot of friends and a lot of respect at UEFA 2024. 

Sport and politics

One final point. Football in particular, and sport in general, is no place for politics. Sport is sport, it is about competing as equals, respecting one another and having fun playing together, it is about young people coming together and win or lose, leaving the field as friends, be they players or fans. It is also no place for international events to interfere, banning teams because of certain events arbitrarily using sporting institutions as political proxies. Was anyone banned from anything for destroying Iraq illegally outside the áuspices of the UN Security Council and massacring up to a million civilians? Was anyone banned from anything for attacking Libya, destroying the State, committing war crimes, breaching the terms of UNSC 1970 and 1973 (2011)?

Sport is sport. It is supposed to be fun, it is supposed to be about togetherness, making friends and mutual respect. It is not about taking political sides or making political references before, during or after games. Maybe everyone should remember that in future.

That would be all. Congratulations, Albania!


Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey can be contacted at [email protected]

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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey