Ivan Balliu, the Catalan defender of Albania: “We will be a very heavy team, we will fight”

Ivan Balliu, the Catalan defender of Albania: “We will be a very heavy team, we will fight”

Ivan Balliu Campeny (January 1, 1992, Caldes de Malavella, Girona) will play his first European Championship. He will play it, like most, thanks to many circumstances, starting with his football quality, continuing with his performance at Rayo, continuing with the will of Sylvinho, the coach, and ending (or is it starting?) With the his great-great-grandfather. The surname Balliu has Albanian roots. And he, like all his companions, is between restless and excited before the imminent debut against Italy in Dortmund (3 p.m.) this Saturday.

He goes to his first international tournament. He will be excited.

I am very happy and looking forward to seeing the atmosphere, so different from what we are used to in the League. I will enjoy it very much. When I chose to play with Albania it was because they had just played in a European Championship, their first in 2016, and it was a challenge that I wanted to be repeated. And it has been repeated, although it comes to me more at the end of my career than at the beginning.

And will you enjoy it more after the suffering experienced with Rayo?

In Primera you always suffer, especially in a team like Rayo whose objective is to save itself. It is true that we had a couple of calmer years before but this one we had to suffer. I am already focused on the Euro Cup.

Sorry to insist, but Albania lends itself to comparison.

In First Division it is very difficult to win a match, and in a Euro Cup I imagine it is too. It is our reality.

Balliu, during the interview with El Periódico. / David Castro

“In the First Division you always suffer, especially in a team like Rayo. It is very difficult to win a game, and in a Euro Cup I imagine it is too”

Albania’s too.

Right, it’s the most difficult group. We’re going to be covered, we’re going to be humble, and we’ll see what happens.

They have options. Three countries pass.

It is very difficult. Spain, in principle, must go first. Italy has not been in the battle in recent years, but it is playing better. And Croatia, if you look at what they do, ends up being in everyone’s semifinals. We have to be realistic about the difficulty it entails.

What is the level of trust of Albanians?

Wherever we have played, our fans fill the stands and that will help us a lot to scratch something and hopefully we can finish as second or third.

The qualifying phase was almost flawless.

It was a very even group. The most powerful was Poland, and it was not good at all, to the point that it came third and had to go to the playoff. We competed very well, we got good points away and we became strong at home.

How would you define Albanian style if you have one?

It is a style of being strong defensively and going on the counterattack. We are not a team that wants to play everything from behind, but rather to be with very close lines, very compact, closing spaces, and looking for the counterattack.

A defined pattern of simple play, which minimizes errors.

You also have to understand the technicians. There is very little time to work with the entire group, just a couple of days in the weeks reserved for selections between games. It’s about making things easy.

Is Albania’s main virtue that it knows how to compete?

Yes Yes. We will be a very heavy team. We will wage war. If we don’t lack something, it’s legs and fight. We will be a difficult team to beat.

Balliu smiles as the conversation unfolds. / David Castro

It must be difficult to create cohesion with all the players scattered around the world.

This happens to almost all teams, although it is true that some, like Spain, for example, have a more defined group. Ours is more changeable, especially now that young talent is emerging. But yes, it costs.

In Spain there are only three Albanian internationals. And only one has been summoned.

Keidi Bare, from Espanyol, Myrto Uzuni, from Granada, and me. The majority play for Italian teams, in Serie A.

The 26 belong to 23 different teams.

This goes like this. There is a person in the federation, Alarico Rossi, who dedicates his time to looking for footballers with Albanian roots…

And that’s how they found you.

They started with my last name, Balliu. There are about 60 of us in Spain, almost all of us close family, and in Albania there are four or five thousand.

United by the same origin. ¿And how did they find out?

Yes, yes, but we didn’t know it. When he was in France, playing for Metz, he received messages on Twitter and thought: ‘Wow, they must be confused.’ Albanians who wrote to me in Albanian. And shortly afterward they called me from the federation, I met with the president and we started the process.

Ivan Balliu, at the end of the interview. / David Castro

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“When I was in France, playing for Metz, I received messages on Twitter from Albanians who wrote to me in Albanian. And shortly after they called me from the federation, I met with the president and we started the process”

And it is not the only case.

Wow, there are many like me. Living and playing in Albania there are very few.

With which, they arrive, get together and go out to play. Can you create some community like that?

Yes of course. We all fight to win. In the end, everyone feels what they feel, but winning games is what we want and what interests us.

They play for illusion.

Exactly, we played with enthusiasm and because of the enthusiasm that exists in the country, with people filling the stadiums, and out of gratitude for the consideration that the fans have for us, that we seem almost heroes in their eyes.

“Everyone feels what they feel, but winning games is what we want and what interests us. We play with enthusiasm and because of the enthusiasm that exists in the country, and out of gratitude for the consideration that the fans have for us”

Ivan Balliu has a coffee during the talk. / David Castro

Will there be fans in Germany?

I know we have fans everywhere, and it seems that in Germany there are many Albanians. I know we will be full because tickets have long been sold out in Dortmund, Hamburg and Düsseldorf. They will freak out with our fans.

The illusion also of the selection that does not always participate.

Indeed. We will live it as if it were the last tournament of our lives and it will be noticed.

I don’t know if the concept of patriotism should exist among players. Perhaps excitement or personal pride is equally important.

Correct. That is what moves us, enthusiasm, pride. Thanks too. We play to win games and reciprocate the feelings of the fans. In a way, it is the same when we play with our clubs.

When you talk to each other, do you feel any common bond?

Now it’s been two or three years since the group is starting to be consistent and has a base although players are coming in and out. We talk with Keidi often.

Balliu explains the ins and outs of Albania. / David Castro

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“Spain one of the favorites for the title with the team they have. We defenders will suffer with people like Nico Williams or Lamine Yamal”

Now he has Panucci and Sylvinho as selectors, who is accompanied by Zabaleta. Do you still see them as former players?

Yes, yes, you feel that respect. It helps me because both of them, including Zabaleta, have been full-backs and that has benefited me a lot.

Let’s talk about the rivals. What do you value most about Spain?

She is one of the favorites for the title with the team she has. We defenders will suffer with people like Nico Williams or Lamine Yamal.

And from Italy?

A different profile. Italy always competes, and although they have not been good in recent years, they will go with wounded pride.

What will be the key to qualification for Albania?

Not losing the first game, scratching a little harder in the second against Croatia and arriving at the Spain game hoping that they already have the job done and we catch them asleep.

The key? “Not losing the first game, scratching a little harder in the second against Croatia and arriving at the Spain game hoping that they already have the job done and we catch them asleep.”

With three or four points they still pass as third.

But those three or four points will have to be added! It will not be easy.

What has Sylvinho changed in the national team?

Before we played with a defense of five, and we moved to one of four. He has given confidence, he has called up young people who play good teams and the results have reinforced us, now we believe it.

You will have an easy time getting along with Sylvinho and Zabaleta.

The language helps of course, but the two coaches I had before were Italian and I understood them perfectly.

2024-06-14 05:01:12
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