Scotland v Albania: Visitors boast Serie A regulars & Christian Panucci in dugout

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland
Taulant Xhaka (right) celebrates the goal that earned Albania a win over Israel
Taulant Xhaka (right) scored the goal that earned Albania a win over Israel
Uefa Nations League: Scotland v Albania
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Monday, 10 September Time: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport Scotland website and app.

Albania will take to the field for Scotland's Nations League opener on Monday with an old foe in the technical area and boasting players who are thriving in Italy.

The Balkan side are coached by Christian Panucci, who headed in Andrea Pirlo's disputed free-kick at Hampden Park in the final game of Alex McLeish's first spell in charge to end Scotland's hopes of reaching Euro 2008.

The goal was described by McLeish as "an absolute farce, one of the biggest, most horrendous mistakes I've seen from a referee".

But what awaits when the Scotland head coach comes face to face with Panucci again on Monday?

What is Albania's form like?

Panucci took over a year ago and has yet to convince the Albanian public of his credentials as he battles to fill the boots of countryman Gianni de Biasi, who took Albania to the Euro 2016 finals.

Their European Championship appearance owed much to a sensational win in Portugal at the start of the qualifying campaign, the sort of headline result Scotland have lacked since winning in Paris in 2007.

That the Portuguese would go on to win the tournament highlights just how impressive that result was, even if they failed to emerge from a group ahead of France and Switzerland.

Since then, it has been a mixed bag, although Friday's opening 1-0 Nations League victory over Israel has afforded them the opportunity to take a stranglehold of Group 1 in League C should they win at Hampden.

One sliver of good news for Scotland is the injury-enforced absence of several key Albania players.

Experienced Akhmat Grozny midfielder Odise Roshi, talismanic Levante striker Armando Sadiku and new Rangers winger Eros Grezda will all be missing.

Who are the players to watch?

Elseid Hysaj in action for Napoli
Elseid Hysaj (right) has made 108 appearances for Napoli

Elseid Hysaj: He plays in the upper echelons of Italy's Serie A with Napoli. After initially impressing with Empoli, the 24-year-old right-back is now valued in the £25m bracket and was an integral part of the club's title tilt last season. He already has a wealth of Champions League and international experience behind him.

Thomas Strakosha: The Lazio goalkeeper had a relatively busy night while earning his seventh cap against Israel. The 23-year-old, who was born in Athens, was third choice at the Rome club before forcing himself into the side two seasons ago. He has also displaced Albania's Euro 2016 goalkeeper, Etrit Berisha, who himself left Lazio for Atalanta in search of first-team football.

Taulant Xhaka: The 27-year-old Basel midfielder scored his first international goal against Israel with a crisp finish. Reportedly a target of Sevilla, among others, the Swiss-born player is the elder brother of Arsenal's Granit Xhaka, who he faced in Albania's historic Euro 2016 opener against Switzerland.

Albania squad

Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha (Atalanta), Thomas Strakosha (Lazio), Alban Hoxha (Partizani Tirana)

Defenders: Ansi Agolli (Qarabag), Mergim Mavraj (Aris Thessaloniki), Elseid Hysaj (Napoli), Berat Gjimshiti (Atalanta), Freddie Veseli (Empoli), Herdi Prenga (Inter Zapresic), Egzon Binaku (Malmo), Besir Demiri (Mariupol), Enea Mihaj (Panetolikos)

Midfielders: Andi Lila (Giannina), Jahmir Hyka (San Jose Earthquakes), Migjen Basha (Aris Thessaloniki), Ledia Memushaj (Pescara), Taulant Xhaka (Basel), Sabien Lilaj (Gabala), Emanuele Ndoj (Brescia), Bujar Lika (Grasshopper), Enis Gavazaj (Yenisey Krasnoyarsk)

Forwards: Bekim Balaj (Akhmat Grozny), Rey Manaj (Albecete), Sindrit Guri (Oostende)

Top Stories

Around Scottish sport