Mark O’Haire’s Euro Tips – Albania v Switzerland
Saturday’s trio of Euro 2016 fixtures kicks-off with an intriguing contest between Albania and Switzerland from Lens in Group A.
Albania v Switzerland, Saturday 11th June (14.00), BBC1
As well as featuring Albania’s first ever sojourn into major tournament football, the clash will have added spice as both sides have a considerable number of Albanian or Kosovan-born players – the Xhaka brothers being the main case in point as Granit (Switzerland) goes toe-to-toe with sibling Taulant (Albania).
Albanian fans are flocking from all over Europe to cheer on the Black Eagles with qualification ranking as the nation’s greatest ever on the sporting sphere. The entire team was awarded the country’s highest civilian award – the Honour of National Order – after securing their spot in France and plenty are travelling with high hopes.
Red & Blacks Lucky Streak
Having been ranked 40th of the 54 European sides when the qualification draw was made, Albania’s accomplishment was the biggest surprise. But it’s fair to say the Red & Blacks enjoyed a large share of fortune along their path.
Italian head-coach Gianni De Biasi saw his side dominated by a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal despite pinching a 1-0 win, whilst the infamous ‘drone incident’ in Serbia handed the Black Eagles a 3-0 victory by default.
Exclude rock-bottom Armenia and Albania scored just two goals in five completed matches against Portugal, Denmark and Serbia and posted a shot ratio figure – their share of the total shots – of just 26% across four fixtures against the Portuguese and Denmark.
No Albanian notched more than once en-route to France and the powder-puff minnows managed fewer than five attempts on-goal from inside the box from their completed seven qualifiers.
It’s fair to say, the lowest ranked nation don’t excel in the offensive third.
It’s not all bad news, mind. De Biasi has a built an organised and disciplined outfit since arriving in December 2011 with their 4-5-1 designed to frustrate opponents before pinching goals on the break.
Although the team have won just three of their previous 10 – against Qatar, Luxembourg and Armenia – the Black Eagles represent an awkward proposition for Switzerland.
The Swiss are tipped for second in Group A but Die Nati have never progressed from the group-stage of a European Championship. On all three previous excursions Switzerland finished bottom of their group, losing six of their nine pool matches and scoring just five goals. A repeat this summer would be criminal.
Vladimir Petkovic arrived in the head coach’s hot-seat after the World Cup promising a more attack-minded side. However, progress has been limited and many supporters are feeling short-changed with a style that’s been labelled as ‘faceless’ and ‘shapeless’ in the national media.
There’s quality galore in full-back and midfield areas but there’s a worrying overreliance on Xherdan Shaqiri to provide offensive ammunition with neither Haris Seferovic or Eren Derdiyok convincing in the central striking role. And at centre-back, Johan Djourou and Fabian Schar are the best of a bad bunch.
Die Nati notched 24 goals during qualification but 21 came against Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino as they failed to score in three of their four fixtures against England or Slovenia. In fact, qualification was far from a comfortable ride and it’s fair to suggest this side have regressed in the past two years.
A previous W5-D1-L0 head-to-head record with Albania will count for little on Saturday with the highly-motivated underdogs ready to work their socks off in order to earn at least a point. Switzerland are understandable 20/23 favourites but this encounter could easily end in embarrassment.
Albania have only lost 13/39 (33%) since October 2011 and never by more than two goals. The Black Eagles will be far from adventurous – 10 of their past 14 meaningful matches featured fewer than three goals and 7/14 (50%) fell below the 1.5 goal line – so a repeat scenario seems likely.
Backing Under 0.5 first-half goals at 13/10 looks a safe play…
…Albania have leaked just six goals before the interval in 17 competitive encounters – whilst it might be best to take a watching brief before getting involved on either side in what could be a fiery fixture.
Under 0.5 first-half goals (13/10)
*Prices correct at time of publication.