September 7th, 2015; 18:45 GMT
Albania take on Portugal, with the winner claiming the top spot of the Group I, in the Qualifiers for the EURO 2016.
The previous leg of this tie, in Albania, saw the minnows register a shock victory of Paulo Bento’s men, leading to the manager’s dismissal in September of last year.
Portugal sit on top of Group-I, with Albania and Denmark only a point each behind them.
Team News and Tactics
Given the struggles of Serbia and Armenia, Portugal are only a point clear at the top and face qualification rivals Albania and Denmark in their next two competitive matches.
They come into this match having lost to a late Mathieu Valbuena goal in a friendly last night against next year’s hosts France.
Winger Cristiano Ronaldo failed to find the back of the net in Lisbon, and is now without a goal in three games this season for club and country having not scored in Real Madrid’s opening two La Liga matches. The Madeira native will inevitably bear the weight of expectations on his shoulders, as crunch games often bring out the best of his abilities.
Given the tepid displays by both Nani and Ricardo Quaresma, Monaco youngster Bernardo Silva could yet be given a run in to team. Without the services of veteran Joao Moutinho, Portugal should look to the youngster to provide both spark and creativity to break down an often defensively set Albanian side.
Away from home, Portugal are in fine qualifying form having won five on the bounce in both Euro and World Cup qualifiers.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Rui Patricio, Pepe, Fonte, Eliseu, Vieirinha, Pereira, Joao Gomes, B.Silva, Nani, Ronaldo, Eder.
The Red and Blacks have never qualified for the finals of a major tournament but have a real chance this time around, having already won more games in qualifying for a European Championship than ever before.
Due to the five-team nature of Group I, results against sixth-placed teams in Groups A-H do not count towards the ranking of third-placed teams. That means that, as it stands, unbeaten Albania would go straight through to France if they finish third.
Gianni De Biasi’s chargers come into this match unbeaten in three games. They travelled to Denmark in a crunch game on Wednesday night and held the hosts to a goalless draw, to remain well in the hunt to top the group.
Their previous meeting with the Portuguese resulted in one of their most famous victories. A 1-0 away victory in Lisbon, courtesy of a Bekim Balaj stunner, lead to the sacking of Portuguese coach Paulo Bento, as well as cementing Albania’s new-found pedigree in the group.
Victory here against the Portuguese would set them up to secure a top-two place as their final two games of the group are against struggling duo Serbia and Armenia.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Berisha, Djimsiti, Cana, Ajeti, Agolli, Gashi, Xhaka, Kukeli, Abrashi, Lenjani, Cikalleshi
- These two have met on six occasions down the years and Albania’s surprise win in Aveiro in the reverse was their first-ever win against Portugal.
- Portugal are top of Group I but just a point ahead of Albania and Denmark, and could miss out on automatic qualification if their campaign ends poorly.
Player to watch out for
Cometh the moment, cometh the man. If there’s one Cristiano Ronaldo can’t do, is stay silent for long. His failure to net a goal in his last three games for club and country might ring alarm bells by his lofty standards, but the former Manchester United winger knows when to pick his moments. Despite not registering a goal against Real Betis, Ronaldo’s overall team-play seems to have improved slightly under Rafa Benitez. Whether he will be deployed as a winger or an auxiliary striker is yet to be seen.
Given the tense nature of the tie, and the fact that only a point separates the two, the time seems ripe for the winger to put in a stellar performance.