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Better know a Group E World Cup Qualifying Group Opponent: Albania

Now that the European Championships have ended. It is time to look at the Swiss route to Brazil in 2014 and the opponents they have to get past. The first opponent to evaluate is Albania.

Albania

(The rankings are as of July 22, 2012)

FIFA ranking World/UEFA: 75/35

Elo ranking World/UEFA: 92/38

Last 5 matches: 2 Wins 1 Draw 2 Losses

Wins: Versus Qatar 2-1 & Versus Iran 1-0

Draw: 0-0 at Macedonia

Losses: 1-0 at home to Azerbaijan & 2-1 at Georgia

Home Stadium: Qemal Stafa (Capacity: 19,700), Tirana

It has been announced that for the 100th Anniversary of the Albanian Declaration of Independence this year, a new stadium will be built in the capital.

Albania has never qualified for the World Cup Finals or a European Championship in its history.

Their last World Cup Qualification was disappointing, they finished 5th in Group A with 7 points (null win, 4 draws, and 5 losses) scoring just 6 times and conceding 13. The highlight would have to be either the 3-0 victory at home against Malta, but others would say the 1-1 draw with eventual group winners Denmark showed the promise of this team. The worst game would have to be finishing 0-0 at Malta, which was their  only point of the qualification.

Their qualification route to Euro 2012 also saw them finish 5th earning 9 points (null wins, 3 draws, 5 losses) scoring 7 times, but conceding 14. Their wins were both 1-0 (at home against Luxembourg and Belarus). But the low point of the qualifying was a 2-1 defeat at Luxembourg, which was their only win in the Group.

Looking at their matches, I can see that they defend their home well, but struggle away from Tirana to get points, even against the weakest of nations.

The matches:

Matchday 2 September 11, 2012: Switzerland vs Albania, in Lucerne: This will be the first home match for Schweizer Nati and they should get the three points. Albania struggles against the weakest of teams, but does sometimes find the strength to get a draw, it will be important to jump on them early and not allow them to find their feet.

Matchday 9 October 11, 2013: Albania vs Switzerland, site TBD, but most likely Tirana: With the qualifying process winding down it will be likely that Albania’s hopes have ended. If that is the case then they will be looking to play spoiler and make this game tough, I personally would have rather seen the Swiss go to Albania early and get it out of the way, as it’s one of the more treacherous journeys in my opinion. I’d like to see this game as a sure three points, as a draw here could derail the Swiss hopes. Hopefully Albania gives everyone a challenge at home besides Switzerland.

Key players: The Captain is Lorik Cana, a midfielder who plays for Lazio in Italy and goalkeeper Samir Ujkani is a goalkeeper for Palermo. Three recent national team members currently play in Switzerland, midfielders Jahmir Hyka and Mergim Brahimi play in the Super League for Luzern and Grasshoppers respectively. Striker Armando Sadiku plays in the Challenge League for Locarno.

The information I have collected shows the squad has recently used a wide variety of formations, but seem to favor a single striker. Their new coach, Gianni De Biasi, took over at the end of 2011. He had previously coached Udinese in Italy for part of the 2009-2010 season guiding the team to a 2-3-5 record before being sacked. During those games he moved back and forth between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 formation.

Conclusion:

Albania is a team that should finish below Switzerland, but could potentially prevent the team from qualifying, much like Wales did for Euro 2012. I am highly confident that the Swiss can defend their home for three points, but going to Albania is a different prospect. Getting a draw wouldn’t be the worst thing if Albania gets points from Slovenia and Norway at home as well. A loss to them, particularly so late in the qualifying rounds, could see the Swiss not making the journey to Brazil.

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