May 24, 2016 / 3:06 AM / a year ago

Berisha stands tall as Albania's talisman

Football Soccer - Albania Training - Ernst Happel Stadium, Vienna, Austria - 25/03/16. Albania's goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.Leonhard Foeger

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania's Italian coach Gianni De Biasi never tires of saying his star player is the team but goalkeeper Etrit Berisha stands out from those around him, not only because of his 1.94-metre height.

Berisha became a fan favourite from the moment a string of memorable saves in his first game earned him the jersey for the Euro qualifiers.

"We were really very lucky he played in all the games," Astrit Hafizi, Albania's former coach, told Reuters.

"He is one of the stars, probably the star. I am fully convinced when I say that we would have had great difficulties if he had not played in any of the matches."

At club level, Berisha has also produced at the other end of the pitch and he was a regular penalty-taker for Swedish side Kalmar FF where he effectively began his career after moving from his native Kosovo.

In 2013 he signed for Italian club Lazio where he has faced a battle with Federico Marchetti for a starting spot.

In Albania, though, he has few peers and he is expected to provide a solid platform on which the side can build in France.

"He is excellent, the key, he provides security. I don't recall any of his mistakes; if there is someone in our team who does not make mistakes, Berisha is that player," said sports writer Denion Ndrenika.

"His own performance has been spotless but he should shout aggressively in managing the defenders. He often leaves that role to (captain Lorik) Cana but it is him who has the best view of the defence so the goalkeeper should show determination," Ndrenika added.

Editing by Neil Robinson

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