UEFA Nations League
Albania v Scotland
Saturday, 17 November
7.45pm (UK time) kick-off
Loro Boriҫi Stadium, Shkodër
Scotland make the trip to Albania for the first match of a crucial double-header in the UEFA Nations League, with Alex McLeish’s side looking to strike a vital blow in the pursuit of a playoff berth for UEFA Euro 2020.
In what will be Scotland’s penultimate fixture of the calendar, players and coaching staff alike are under no illusions as to the performance required against a stubborn Albania outfit.
After defeat to Israel in Haifa last month, the match represents an important opportunity to build momentum ahead of the team’s return to Hampden Park on Tuesday in the final stretch of the inaugural UEFA Nations League.
There will be a few new faces joining McLeish’s squad on the flight to Albania this week, while some familiar faces return to the squad after a period of absence.
The hosts, meanwhile, will provide a stern test of Scotland’s credentials after proving tough to break down in the meeting between the two sides in Glasgow earlier this year.
September’s meeting at Hampden Park was the first and only meeting to date between Scotland and Albania, with Alex McLeish’s side emerging victorious in front of their home supporters.
After a goalless first half, Berat Xhimshiti’s own goal and a header from Steven Naismith proved decisive as Scotland kicked off their UEFA Nations League campaign with a deserved three points.
Alex McLeish has had to contend with a number of setback in recent weeks, with injuries to the likes of Steven Naismith, Craig Gordon and Charlie Mulgrew ruling some senior players out of contention.
However, the fixture marks an opportunity for McLeish and his coaching staff to try out new players and combinations in a time where squad depth is crucial.
Hamburg defender David Bates earns a first call-up to the senior international setup, whilst Scott Bain and Jamie MacDonald replace Jon McLaughlin and the injured Gordon.
Up front, Steven Fletcher is recalled to the squad for the first time since October 2017, with West Bromwich Albion’s Matt Phillips also returning after injury.
Who has the record the joint fastest @dundeeunitedfc goal?— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) 13 November 2018
Which player had a spell with Marseille in Ligue 1?
➡️ Test your Scotland squad knowledge in our player quiz: https://t.co/4ssOhRdnLj pic.twitter.com/6ZCk8QyzLN
Albania will be able to call upon the in-form Rangers winger Eros Grezda, whilst there is also a first call-up for Livingston winger Egli Kaja.
Experienced defender Mergim Mavraj will lead the squad, with the 32-year-old fast approaching the 50-cap mark.
Scotland assistant coach Peter Grant: “If we win the two games we top the group, that’s it. Bottom line. That’s the aim.
“You get disappointed when you lose guys through injury but when you the quality and the enthusiasm of the ones who are here, that’s more important. It gives you hope.”
Where will the game be played?
The Loro Boriҫi Stadium will be the venue for Saturday evening’s encounter, with the arena holding fond memories for fans of Scottish football.
Situated in Shkodër, the stadium was the site for Scotland’s historic qualification for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup earlier this year, when the SWNT claimed a 2-1 victory over their Albanian counterparts.
Renovated in 2015 to enhance the capacity to 18,100, the stadium played host to the qualifying campaigns of not one but two nations ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup – in addition to Albania, Kosovo also played their home matches at the ground due to the renovation of their regular stadia.
How have Albania fared recently?
After a promising start to their UEFA Nations League campaign, Christian Panucci’s side find themselves behind their group rivals in the race to secure a UEFA Euro 2020 playoff position.
A strike from Taulent Xhaka gave Albania a hard-earned 1-0 victory over Israel at the beginning of September, before the defeat to Scotland at Hampden Park just three days later.
A goalless draw with Jordan in a friendly in October was followed by a disappointing 2-0 defeat away to the Israelis, with goals from Tomer Hemed and Dia Saba putting the match beyond Albania.
The victory against Israel in September is, in fact, the only victory of 2018 for Panucci’s men, having suffered friendly defeats against Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine earlier in the year.
Who should Scotland be looking out for?
Eros Grezda is fast becoming a familiar name to Scottish football fans, the winger having signed for Rangers in the summer.
The 23-year-old scored twice in the Ibrox club’s recent 7-1 win over Motherwell, and will be looking to add to his solitary international goal to date.
Hadjuk Split defender Ardian Ismajli is in line to make his international debut, whilst the technically gifted Taulent Xhaka will anchor Albania’s midfield.
Where to watch
The match will be broadcast live on Sky Sports, with BBC Radio Scotland offering live radio commentary. Kick-off is at 7.45pm, UK time.