Albania made a terrific start to FIFA World Cup qualifying with a 3-1 win against Cyprus, but face a different kind of challenge as they visit Switzerland in their second fixture.
Armando Sadiku put the home side ahead in Tirana, and replacements Edgar Çani and Erjon Bogdani struck late on to give them a win in their first competitive game under Italian coach Gianni De Biasi, who said: "It was a very difficult match and a difficult win. Cyprus are a good team and they don't let you get into your game. This is my first win as a coach in World Cup qualifiers, and I dedicate it to my daughter who just turned 20."
Captain Lorik Cana gave full credit to the substitutes for turning the game, noting: "It was a great team win, but Bogdani and Çani made the difference with their goals. A great three points." For Bogdani, it was to be a match with special resonance – his grandmother died in the hours before kick-off, but he did not discover that until after full-time. "I will always remember this goal, and I will remember her with it," he said.
Emotions were running high in Tirana, but they may be higher still in Lucerne as De Biasi's men take on a Switzerland side featuring a number of Albanian-speaking players: Granit Xhaka, Valon Behrami, Xherdan Shaqiri, Blerim Dzemaili and Admir Mehmedi. However, Football Association of Albania (FShF) president Armand Duka told UEFA.com that there was no extra tension: "We are playing against the strongest side in our group: that's is the key thing about the match against Switzerland."
Cana, who like a number of his Swiss opponents was born in Kosovo, added: "I respect them as players, even more knowing they are from Kosovo, but when the game comes around, they are just like any other opposition players."
Albania's squad, meanwhile, features three players who play their club football in Switzerland: Sadiku (FC Lugano), Jahmir Hyka (FC Luzern) and Burim Kukeli (FC Zürich), who was raised in Zurich and even played street football with Swiss captain Gökhan Inler in his youth.
"I love Switzerland and I have nothing bad to say about it," said Kukeli, who made his debut against Cyprus on Friday. "I grew up there and that's where I learned to played the game, but when I get on that pitch I will be playing for Albania and I will do my best to help my team win."
Xhaka, meanwhile, scored his first competitive international goal as Switzerland won 2-0 in Slovenia, but knows he may have mixed feelings if he finds the target against Albania. "I just know that if I score I will not celebrate," said the 19-year-old.
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