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Albania v Portugal: Winners will be all-but qualified

Albania will be hoping history can repeat itself when they tackle Group I leaders Portugal in Monday’s Euro 2016 qualifier.

Gianni de Biasi’s men secured a famous 1-0 victory in the corresponding fixture a year ago almost to the day, with Bekim Balaj’s second-half volley stunning the hosts in Aveiro.

Albania remain unbeaten in their qualification campaign since that opening game triumph and will replace Portugal in the top two automatic qualification spots if they manage to repeat the feat in Elbasan.

Monday’s winner will regardless be on the brink of a place in France with Group I likely to feature the third-placed team with the highest number of points.

Portugal have impressed in their qualifying fixtures since defeat to Albania, winning all four.

The visitors can draw further encouragement from the fact that they have won on both of their previous visits to Albania and that Cristiano Ronaldo has been in scintillating recent form for his country, scoring five goals in the qualification campaign to date.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos is expected to start new Porto recruit Danilo Pereira in midfield with Joao Moutinho and William Carvalho both unavailable due to injury.

Santos had a chance to test out his side in Friday’s friendly against France and, despite going down 1-0 to Mathieu Valbuena’s late free-kick, the former Olympiacos coach was pleased with what he saw in Lisbon.

“It was worth it,” Santos told RTP. “Portugal did very well, with good ball retention, exploring the flanks and getting Cristiano close to Eder.

“France had periods where they got better, and they were improved in the second half.

“At the point that we were getting better, we ended up conceding a goal at a set-piece. Football is like this.

“I want to thank the fantastic public presence and the way they pushed the team forward. The team was thrilled.

“We had two or three players with some problems. We had to make changes but that’s not why we lost. The team fought well.”

The home side, meanwhile, were delighted with Friday’s 0-0 draw against Denmark in Copenhagen and they could even have pinched all three points had Kasper Schmeichel not produced a fine stoppage-time save to deny substitute Odise Roshi.

Albania will again be without injured Cologne defender Mergim Mavraj, but left-back Elseid Hysaj could be fit enough to return after missing the Denmark trip and Berat Djimisiti is poised to win his second cap after an accomplished debut against the Danes.

Sat 5 Sep, 2015
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