Former Arsenal and Barcelona defender Sylvinho has transformed the side and led the Red and Blacks to top their qualifying group and reach only their second Euros

Albania’s Kristjan Asllani cools off before the Euro 2024 qualifier against the Czech Republic. Photograph: Florion Goga/Reuters

This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2024 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who qualified. is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.


Albania had an unbelievable run during the qualifiers, which was even more surprising given they were coming out of one of the worst years in their footballing history, having won one match out of 11 in 2022. Their fortunes changed immediately when Sylvinho was appointed in January 2023, and the team went on an eight-match unbeaten run, which included wins against Poland and the Czech Republic that saw the “Red and Blacks” win Group E and qualify for only their second European Championship finals.

Players such as Armando Broja, Marash Kumbulla and Rey Manaj were supposed to have a central role but were missing because of injuries. The Brazilian manager had the audacity to put the likes of Jasir Asani, Mario Mitaj, Mirlind Daku and Arbnor Muja, who had previously never played international football, in the lineup and all proved decisive in the outcome, even if the displays at times were not particularly brilliant.

Form will be a concern in the Euros, with several important players arriving with a lack of minutes this season. This includes the two goalkeepers, Empoli’s Etrit Berisha and Brentford’s Thomas Strakosha, and the decisive long-range goalscorer Asani, who played only eight minutes of club football so far in 2024 because of contract disputes with his South Korean side Gwangju.

Another concern was Sylvinho’s final squad choices, suddenly leaving out regulars such as Sokol Cikalleshi, Myrto Uzuni and Keidi Bare and offering incohesive explanations of the reasons why, ranging from “my criteria for the list was not playing time with their teams” and “the squad was not based on what happened in qualification” to “I changed the list three days ago”. The selection has put pressure on the Brazilian that was not there before and he now needs to prove to everyone that he was right. Cikalleshi, who turns 34 later this summer, immediately quit international football after the omission.

Albania at least won their first warm-up game against Liechtenstein 3-0 and the FA has said there is an agreement in place for the Sylvinho to continue to lead the team until 2026.

The manager likes a 4-3-3 setup, and knows he needs all his squad in top condition to be part of it. “The players who do not run will not join us,” was the quick answer Sylvinho gave after two lacklustre performances in the March friendlies, losing 3-0 to Chile and 1-0 to Sweden. The double pivot in midfield needs offensive players to be involved directly in defensive duties.

That will certainly be the case in a Euro 2024 group involving matches against Italy, Croatia, and Spain, where the defence will be tested to its limits. Counterattacking is the weapon Albania have used so often, and it relies on the speed and technical capabilities of the wingers in particular. That is not going to change against opponents of such calibre in Group B.