LISBON (Reuters) – Albania handed demoralised Portugal one of their most embarrassing international defeats when a spectacular volley by Bekim Balaj gave the rank outsiders a 1-0 away win in their opening Euro 2016 qualifier on Sunday.
The defeat, Portugal’s first at home in a competitive international since they lost to Denmark six years ago, was the last thing Portugal coach Paulo Bento needed after clinging to his job despite his side’s dismal World Cup display, when they went out in the group stage.
Portugal, missing Cristiano Ronaldo over fitness concerns for the Group I match, were again lacklustre in attack, suggesting they lack any sort of alternative to the Real Madrid forward.
Albania, who have never qualified for a major tournament, defended with five across the back line and another four in front of that. It was certainly not sophisticated but it was too much for Portugal’s unimaginative midfield and attack to break down.
Albania scored from their only shot on target in the 52nd minute when Odise Roshi crossed from the near the corner flag into the centre of the penalty area.
Balaj, running away from the goal, met it with a first-time shot on the turn, the 23-year-old Slavia Prague forward hooking it brilliantly past a bemused Rui Patricio from near the penalty spot.
Albania retreated even further after the goal and the rest of the game was played almost entirely in their half of the field.
Portugal began to look more dangerous and Nani was just wide with a 25-metre effort, then Ricardo Horta rattled the crossbar with another effort from just outside the area.
Albania goalkeeper Etrit Berisha also played his part as he saved a dangerous effort from Fabio Coentrao and tipped Andre Gomes’ shot over the bar in the dying minutes.
The last few minutes were played to a deafening chorus of jeers from the 23,000 crowd at Aveiro’s Municipal stadium who also waved white handkerchiefs.
“These are natural reactions,” Bento told RTP television.
“We know the public was not satisfied. We have to respect people’s reactions and carry on our way.
“It didn’t go well for us in terms of the result,” added the beleaguered coach.
“In the first half, we had chances to take lead and we had the game completely under control … in the second half, we started well but conceded a goal from the only chance that our opponents created.”
“There are no easy games, whether it’s Albania or any other team” added midfielder Joao Moutinho.
“We have to do better, there can’t be any more excuses.”