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ESPN: It has shown that it is ready for war, Albania can go to the qualifying stage of Euro 2024

ESPN: It has shown that it is ready for war, Albania can go to the qualifying

Group B one of the most formidable groups of Euro 2024. Albania goes into its final group stage match against Spain today with a glimmer of hope to reach the knockout rounds for the first time in the country's history.

After a narrow loss to Italy and a draw with Croatia, a win against a Spanish side who have already topped the group and are expected to change their squad would seal their passage to the last 16, writes ESPN . A draw could even be enough if Croatia fail to beat Italy and results in the other groups go their way, allowing them to advance as one of the best third-placed teams with two points.

It would represent a remarkable achievement for a nation with a population of around 2.8 million to appear in their second European Championship. Sandwiched between Cape Verde and Burkina Faso in 66th place in the FIFA rankings, only Georgia is ranked lower than Albania in the tournament, yet these two teams have provided the most entertainment in Germany so far.

Tied together with Spain, Italy and Croatia, all of whom feature in the top 10 of FIFA's rankings, Albania were understandably written off. However, once the football started, it soon became clear that they would have a role to play in Group B.

They needed just 23 seconds to score against Italy in the opening game, Nedim Bajrami scoring the fastest goal in the history of the men's European Championship. Italy fought back to win 2-1, but it was a performance that inspired the belief that the unthinkable was possible.

More than 50,000 Albania fans attended that match in Dortmund. The screams every time Bajrami or Yasir Asani grabbed the ball and tried to run at their Italian opponents added to the excitement and the sense of anything within reach.

It was perhaps that support and belief that propelled them to a draw against Croatia in their second game. Croatia had scored twice to cancel out Qazim Laçi's opener, but Albania were undeterred and scored a dramatic 95th-minute equalizer through Klaus Gjasula, who had earlier scored an own goal after coming on as a substitute. It was Albania's third goal in the final -- only Germany, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland scored more in the first two group games.

For the younger generations, that dream is no longer forbidden. Bajram's early goal and Gjasula's late goal are moments of history and inspiration. The current squad could benefit from schooling football across Europe, but the hope is that moments like this will bring out more homegrown talent in the coming years.

There may still be other big moments to come, too. Albania have their work cut out for them in Düsseldorf against one of the tournament's best teams so far, but Spain have already secured top spot in Group B and coach Luis de la Fuente is expected to rest players. Midfielder Rodri will miss the game regardless of suspension and other players may be given a break ahead of the knockout rounds.

Albania have shown against Italy and Croatia that they are ready for war and will again have the bulk of the support against Spain at the Düsseldorf Arena.

That they go into the final group game with hopes of the knockout rounds is testament to the oft-scrutinized decision to expand the finals to 24 teams in 2016.

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