Albania will be in the FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying group stage draw on Tuesday with the very strongest teams in Europe – but their performance in their first internationals will give them real hope.
They only played their debut friendly on 10 November 2011, winning 4-1 in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and last year they beat the same opponents 2-0 as well as gaining victories home and away against Montenegro. Their competitive bow then arrived last week in a World Cup preliminary round group in Malta, which they passed with flying colours. After holding the Group A hosts 1-1, they defeated Latvia 2-0 and Luxembourg 2-1 to earn their spot in main qualifying, the first time any Albania side had made it through a round of any UEFA or FIFA competition.
"It is a historic result", said Armand Duka, president of the Football Association of Albania (FShF). "I am very proud and happy for the girls and the coaching staff. They deserve all the credit for this success."
"We have a great group of girls and we love playing together," said captain Aurora Serenaj, one of three ever-presents with Albina Rrahmani and Nora Selmani. Midfielder Suada Jashari, who scored against Luxembourg and is their current highest goal-getter with four, added: "It was a great team effort."
Women's football in Albania only really began in 2005 and there are still just 250 registered players, with nine of the 18-strong squad playing abroad. Coach Altin Rraklli said: "It was very tough to get the team together. We have girls on the team who travel from all over the world, the United States and Australia, but at the end of the day those were the girls who carried the team and they did a great job," referring to Furtuna Velaj and Ellvana Curo, who contributed three of the five goals between them.
Velaj, recently training with top-level American side Portland Thorns FC having played at college and professional level in the US, notched the decisive goal against Luxembourg and said: "Playing with and against world-class players has been a great experience for me and I am trying to use that to my benefit with Albania." More encounters with elite opposition are now guaranteed from September.
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