Albania Euro 2016 squad gets red-carpet welcome back home
TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s football squad was welcomed home Thursday with a red-carpet ceremony on its return from the country’s first ever participation at the European Championship, although the team was knocked out in the first round.
Prime Minister Edi Rama greeted the players at Tirana airport before they boarded an open-top bus.
Albania scored its first goal in a major tournament to beat Romania 1-0 and finish third in Group A. But narrow losses to Switzerland and host France cost it a place in the knockout stages.
The players will receive the symbolic key to Tirana and applications for diplomatic passports, to highlight their informal role as ambassadors for Albania.
Albania’s cash-strapped government also decided to allocate a 1 million euro ($1.12 million) reward for the national squad.
Rama said a memorial with the names of all the squad would be put at the entrance of the new national stadium.
“This arena is dedicated to the Euro 2016 red-and-black national team,” would be engraved, he said.
In two years Albania will have a new 22,300-seat National Arena.
“Sport can be a good way of exercising diplomacy, and you have shown that you are our ambassadors to the world,” Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati said. “Albania has many diplomats, but you have achieved true excellence with the message you have sent to the world.”
Coach Giovanni De Biasi, an Italian who has also received Albanian citizenship, called on “those youngsters who want a different type of life for themselves” to follow the players’ example.
De Biasi pledged he would continue to stay with the Albanian team.