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Albania: Lowdown on Scotland's Nations League opponents

A look at Albania's recent results, manager and the key men for Scotland to beware.

Scouting mission: Albanian players take a look around Hampden.
Scouting mission: Albanian players take a look around Hampden. SNS

Scotland kick off their Nations League campaign when Albania visit Hampden on Monday.

Managed by former Italy defender Christian Panucci, the Albanians got off to a winning start in the group by defeating Israel.

Here we run the rule over what lies ahead for Alex McLeish's men.

The results

Albania's steady improvement over the last decade resulted in the nation making history in 2016 by qualifying for the European Championships.

A shock away win over Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal set them on their way to qualification. Draws home and away to Denmark proved pivotal as the Albanians eventually pipped the Danes to the runners-up spot.

While their first appearance at a major championships was historic, the matches themselves ended in disappointment.

Albania limped out of the tournament pointless after group defeats to Switzerland, Romania and the hosts France.

They were unable to follow up Euro qualification by reaching the World Cup, largely due to being landed with a tough group headed by Spain and Italy.

Albania finished third in World Cup qualifying behind the two major nations.

A series of friendly defeats at the turn of the year left their Nations League prospects looking poorly, but the Albanians picked up a crucial win over Israel in the group opener as Taulant Xhaka struck.

The key men

Encounter: Scotland skipper Andy Robertson (left) faced off against Elseid Hysaj in club action early this summer.
Encounter: Scotland skipper Andy Robertson (left) faced off against Elseid Hysaj in club action early this summer. PA

Albania's squad features a cohort of players from Italian football, with Napoli defender Elseid Hysaj the standout performer.

The energetic full-back's driving forward runs have been key for club and country of late. Integral to Napoli's Serie A title challenge last season, the 24-year-old also has notable Champions League experience under his belt.

Further up the park, Taulant Xhaka keeps the Albanians ticking going forward. The elder brother of Arsenal playmaker Granit Xhaka, the Swiss-born midfielder scored his first international goal on Friday night as the Albanians defeated Israel.

The manager

Return: Christian Panucci scored the winner for Italy at Hampden 11 years ago.
Return: Christian Panucci scored the winner for Italy at Hampden 11 years ago. SNS

Christian Panucci broke Scottish hearts 11 years ago and the Italian is hoping to do so again upon his return to Hampden.

Full-back Panucci scored the controversial winner as Italy ended Scotland's Euro 2008 qualification hopes.

Most renowned for his spell as part of AC Milan's all-conquering side of the 1990s, he has now moved into management and is in charge of Albania after stints learning his trade with Livorno and Ternana in his homeland.

Panucci reckons his charges face a tough night at Hampden but is confident of taking all three points.

He said: "The Scots will be suffering after the defeat and will be low on confidence.

"We know Scotland will be hurting after the 4-0 defeat and we will come here to do our best to win the match.

"They will wear the shirt with lots of pride, we know that and we know they will be extremely difficult to beat.

"We will give them the utmost respect but we will try and win the game."

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