Albania's Euro 2016 could continue into the knock-out phase after the debutants ended their scoring drought to eliminate Romania with a 1-0 victory in Lyon on Sunday.
Armando Sadiku's 43rd minute header took Albania to three points in Group A, above bottom Romania on one, and leaves them with an anxious wait to see if they will be one of the four best third-place teams who progress. It was Albania's first-ever goal at a major tournament finals.
Romania started brightly before losing their rhythm during the first half and Sadkiu's goal was deserved when it arrived. After the interval Ledian Memushaj twice went close to doubling Albania's lead before substitute Florin Andone hit the woodwork late on for Romania.
France won the group on seven points courtesy of a goalless draw with Switzerland in Lille, with the Swiss automatically reaching the last 16 as runners-up on five.
Albania elected not to recall captain Lorik Cana after suspension with Mergim Mavraj and Arlind Ajeti, who was named man of the match, preferred at centre-back and left-back Ansi Agolli wearing the armband.
Only a win would be enough to keep Albania's tournament alive but they started poorly with Romania dominating the early exchanges. They sent various long shots towards goal and keeper Etrit Berisha needed two efforts to hold Ovidiu Hoban's strike.
Berisha was called upon again to deal with Bogdan Stancu's powerful volley from Elseid Hysaj's weak clearance as Albania struggled to retain possession or make an impact in the Romanian half.
That changed suddenly as Memushaj broke, split the defence to find Andi Lila on the right and the resulting cross found Ermir Lengjani who blazed over from close range. The offside flag spared his blushes but Albania took confidence from the move and Romania began to doubt themselves.
"The plan was to wait for Romania and attack the spaces," Albania coach Gianni de Biasi said. "We expected a strong start from them but we were ready to counter-attack."
A quick throw set up Memushaj to shoot straight at keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu and from the resulting corner Migjen Basha blazed over.
Albania then broke the deadlock as Sadiku escaped marker Vlad Chirches to send a simple header into the net with Tatarusanu caught in no man's land.
"That was very emotional, I can't describe it, it was so emotional to see all those Albanians celebrate," Sadiku said. "I'm very happy."
Memushaj made a horrible mess of his pass to Sadiku to ruin an Albanian two-on-one at the start of the second half as Romania showed little to suggest they would get back into the contest.
Romania's Gabriel Torje replaced Denis Alibec, who suffered a serious looking injury after twisting in the 55th minute, following half time substitute Lucian Sanmartean. Albania removed scorer Sadiku in a like-for-like swap with Bekim Balaj moments later.
Albania remained the more dangerous as Memushaj had a shot parried and sent another just wide before Andone, the final card played from the bench by veteran Romania coach Anghel Iordanescu, beat Berisha only to be denied by the bar.
"A loss is a loss and we're really sorry for what we did today," Iordanescu said. "We started the match quite well and controlled the game. "Because of the mistake in our defence we conceded a goal.
"In the second half we tried to bounce (back), impose our style of play and take possession of the ball, unfortunately we didn't manage to score."
De Biasi chose to protect the lead by bringing on Cana, who entered to a hero's welcome from the Albania fans in the 49,752 crowd, for the closing stages.
Mavraj almost sealed the win when he found the side-netting from a corner and after a relative comfortable five additional minutes, the Albanians could celebrate a historic victory.
"If you score goals you get results, today we were able to contain a squad which had strength and quality," De Biasi said. "Tonight we won with heart, with quality."
Saturday, June 11, 2016 - 18:09
Saturday, June 18, 2016 - 20:13