‘The fog clears out as the Armenian ship sails into Albanian territory and slowly approaches the beautiful Albanian coast. They have been sailing for weeks and they all take a sign of relief as they finally see land. While docking the Albanian eagle quickly sweeps by the mesmerizing alps in Tropojë and flies to Vlorë. One head takes the coarse while the other one is notices the creatures who are considered as intruders at first but later is reminded that these men are visitors.The Armenian entourage settle in Vlorë and the leader gathers his group before leading the group towards their destination, Elbasan Arena i Elbasan.
Shqiponja, Albania’s eagle, follows the Armenian men during their entire journey through the country. When they get closer and eventually enter Elbasan Arena Shqiponja flies by and lands on Gianni De Biasi’s arm. He’s standing on the grass field all by himself being lit up by a couple of lights. “Mirë se vjeni” he says in Albanian as he welcomes the guests. “Are you ready to face the Red & Blacks?” The antagonist looks at the empty space around him and then back at mr De Biasi. “Is it only going to be you?” he says with a smirk on his face while his men are cathing their breaths in the background. “No, they’re all here” De Biasi answers and gives Shqiponja an order. Shqiponja flies off but quickly returns to its place again.
All of the sudden the ground starts shaking, the sound of a march makes everything else go silent. Soon the shadow of several characters are appearing from the dark. Bekim Balaj walks up first holding the Albanian flag with a firm grip. Etrit Berisha is tightening his gloves while walking. Amir Abrashi and Valdet Rama confidently joining him as they walk up and place themselves behind De Biasi. Taulant Xhaka takes one look at the guests when he gets closer and does not let go which makes several of them very uncomfortable, “That’s Xhaka” one of them whispers to the others. They nervously look at each other, knowing what he was capable of. The new member Naser Aliji has barely put on his fighting gear as he nervously follows veteran Mërgim Mavraj in. Mavraj looks at the youngster and puts his arm on his shoulder to calm him down. One by one they all join in and are standing there with their arms crossed ready to fight.
The last man in the Red and Black gear is the captain himself Lorik Cana. He walks in holding his armband and stands next to De Biasi. “Coach, jemi gati” he says and turns to the guests. “We’re ready to fight”.’
Unë besoj, I believe, was the motto for the last qualification however Albania was not one of the countries that got to participate in the World Cup 2010. Instead coach Gianni De Biasi spend his entire summer trying to prepare for the Euro Cup qualification that kicked off during the fall and he did great.
On the first game we played away against Portugal, while others thought Portugal were going to crush us we actually win! Former goalkeeper Bekim Balaj scored the only goal and we had already collected the first win. A month after the Danes came to visit while we premier played at the new Elbasan Arena in Elbasan instead of Qemal Stafa Stadium in Tirana. Albania took an early lead thanks to Ermir Lenjani but right before the game ended Denmark managed to equalized and we had to share the points.
Three days later we witnessed a game, well more like a war, we’ll never forget. Somehow Albania was drawn in the same group as Serbia and due to political reasons Serbia announced that no Albanian supporters were allowed to watch the game in Serbia. With only themselves as backup they received a lot of booing and such as soon as the Albanian national anthem started. Albania had gotten several dangerous chances throughout the game and right before halftime all hell broke loose. A drone flew in, just like the Shqiponja, carrying the Albanian flag. While Serbian players tried to bring it down Taulant Xhaka, Bekim Balaj amogst others ran to protect them from destroying the flag and a big brawl started. Serbian hooligans invaded the pitch and our boys had to run for their lives. Shortly after the referee decided to suspend the game and days after Serbia were awarded the win but did not receive any points.
We had to quickly shake off that terrible incident and focus on the next games. We had to play a friendly against France since the Euro Cup hosting country automatically are through and they can’t just sit around for two years and watch us to play right? Anyway, just like the game against Denmark we managed to take an early 1-0 thanks to Mërgim Mavraj but the French equalized after the halftime break. Game ended 1-1. Another friendly had been booked to be played days after, it was one against our coach’s home country Italy. The Italians won by a narrow 1-0 win thanks to a late goal.
However now it’s time to get down to buisness again. Armenia have travelled to Albania and are preparing for another faceoff. Last time our current squad played them was approximately two years ago and we won (2-0), goals were scored by Valdet Rama and Ergys Kaçe. And yes this duo has been called up for tonight’s game. Armenia are bottom placed in our group with two losses and one draw (1-1 vs. Serbia) while we have one win (1-0 vs. Portugal), one draw (1-1 vs. Denmark) and one so called loss (0-3 vs. Serbia). Armenia may not be a country to fear but we should not underestimate anyone, I mean we even managed to beat Portugal away remember?
So with this game we welcome the year of 2015. May our boys win all the crucial games that we have lined up and make sure that we get that ticket to France next summer. After tonight’s game we have an action filled fall to expect. Denmark away, Portugal at home, Serbia at home and finally Armenia at home. All in two months. Hopefully we can kill two birds with one stone as the English say and celebrate Albania’s independece day on November 28th and at the same time that we have booked a flight for France .
None of us were around for Albania’s independence day back in the early 1900s when Albania was first introduced to the world stage but I am most certain that we all want to see Albania make their debut in the world stage of football. I mean, we all know what Albanians are capable of, not it’s time to show the world. We may not have been ready for the World Cup 2014 but I believe that the Euro Cup 2016 awaits us.