Giovanni De Biasi's Albania are on of two sides heading into their first ever international tournament in France, and confidence is high within the Italian's camp.
The Eagles squad has remained unscathed from injuries, whilst many of their rivals at Euro 2016 haven't been so fortunate. Yet, not all things have gone to plan for Albania as they failed to impress in their warm up matches for the tournament.
Flattered to deceive in warm up games
Albania faced Qatar and Ukraine in their two warm up matches for Euro 2016, and came away with a win and a defeat between the two. Whilst the two games were meant to be the perfect preparation for the side deemed a dark horse in some corners, they ended up being more a show of the defensive inefficiencies that the young nations side posses'.
In their first game the Eagles hosted Qatar in Hartberg, Austria, and fell behind to the Gulf State early on thanks to a Abdelkarim Hassan strike. Arlind Ajeti and Ermir Lenjani however turned things round before the break, before Armando Sadiku rounded off a 3-1 victory midway through the second half.
It was the similar case of an early conceded goal when De Biasi's side met Ukraine, as Taras Stepanenko struck inside ten minutes. Sadiku levelled soon after, but two second half goals from Ukraine's star players Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka condemned Albania to defeat.
The fact that his side shipped four goals in their two games, will prove a worrying fact for the experienced Italian; especially considering two came within the opening ten minutes of either game. Albania, if they stand any chance of progressing to the later stages, will have to keep it tight at the back. Their showing in the warm up matches, will have gone nowhere to convincing their boss that this will be possible; especially considering their first choice pairing of national icon Lorik Cana and 1. FC Köln's Mërgim Mavraj featured in both matches.
The goalscoring prowess of Armando Sadiku, will provide a welcome bonus however for the Eagles considering they managed the fewest goals, seven, of any qualifying team if you discount the 3-0 win awarded after the debacle in Belgrade against Serbia.
Plenty of options to choose from
Unlike many of the other teams at Euro 2016, Albania have a fully fit squad to choose from. The Eagles have made nest in Perros-Guirec, Brittany in the far North West of France and have enjoyed an uneventful build-up to the tournament once at their luxurious training base.
The Stade Jean-Yves Le Jannou is where the squad has been put through their paces in preparation for their Group A games against Switzerland, France and Romania. Of the 23 man squad named by Giovanni De Biasi, every single player remains fit allowing the experienced Italian with plenty of options to choose from. A fact that will come in very useful for the Balkan side, who will face some of Europe's most prestigious nations.
Albania will face Switzerland in their first taste of tournament football; where there will be a battle of brothers as Basel's midfield dynamo Taulant Xhaka faces his similarly named brother Granit; who has recently made a big money switch to Arsenal from Bundesliga outfit Borussia Mönchengladbach. The Swiss are heavily backed to be the second side to qualify from Group A, alongside hosts France, and will prove a tough task for De Biasi's side as well as a good indicator as to how the Eagles will fare in the rest of the tournament.
The Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, famously said to the Italian boss, "Dearest Gianni, words cannot describe my gratitude to you" after Albania had secured qualification to the tournament. A victory against Switzerland on the 11th June, would leave Rama even more indebted to Giovanni de Biasi and his side.