Albania’s football journey has been a tale of resilience and rising against the odds. Their sole Euro appearance in 2016 ended without advancing to the knockout phase, but this time, they’re up against formidable opponents in Group B: defending champions Italy, Spain, and Croatia.

While their tournament experience may seem lacking, Albania’s qualifying campaign instills hope. They emerged as group winners, outperforming the Czech Republic and Poland, with an impressive seven unbeaten games after an initial loss to the Poles.

The team’s trajectory since their 2016 debut has had its ups and downs, missing out on the last Euros and two World Cups. However, under the leadership of new manager Sylvinho, Albania has turned a corner. In 2022, they struggled with only one win in 11 games, but 2023 marked a turning point with five wins and just one loss under Sylvinho’s guidance.

Sylvinho’s strategic partnership with fellow Brazilian Doriva and Argentine Pablo Zabaleta has been instrumental in shaping the team’s style. Their efforts scouted players like Jasir Asani, a left-footed right-winger from Gwangju, South Korea, who has been integral to the team’s success, scoring three goals in the qualifiers.

Albania aims to surprise Italy in their opening game in Germany. With several players familiar with Italian football, including Kristjan Asllani, Nedim Bajrami, and Berat Djimsiti, they possess insider knowledge of their opponents. Additionally, manager Sylvinho’s previous experience working under Roberto Mancini at Inter Milan adds a tactical advantage.

History hasn’t been on Albania’s side, with four losses against Italy and eight defeats against Spain. However, their first encounter with Croatia in this tournament presents an opportunity to write a new chapter. Albania’s qualifying group initially favored Poland, but they defied expectations, proving that the underdog status suits them well.

As Albania enters the group stage in Germany, they carry the weight of low expectations. Paradoxically, this freedom from pressure could transform them into a dark horse that upends the predictions of their more favored opponents.

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