Albania just missed out on reaching the knockout stage of Euro 2016 in their first appearance at the competition as one of just two third-place teams to be eliminated. Their win over Romania with their only goal of the tournament ensured that they went out on a positive note and it also helped them secure some fabulous parting gifts from their own government.
Prime Minister Edi Rama told CNN in an exclusive interview that the players had been “the best ambassadors” for the country and deserved the reward — a seven-figure bonus and diplomatic passports — after their heroics at the European Championship finals in France.
Less than 24 hours after the country’s first victory at a major international tournament — a 1-0 win over Romania — he says the Albanian government has gifted €1 million ($1.13 million) to the nation’s football federation.
Yet it is the awarding of the passports, he says, which shows the real magnitude of the team’s achievement.
“The giving of the diplomatic passports is the most heartfelt and symbolic,” Rama told CNN in a telephone interview late Monday. “Ambassadors have these passports and they are like ambassadors because of how they’ve represented our country.”
It should be noted that diplomatic passports do not guarantee diplomatic immunity when traveling abroad, so that takes some of the fun out of it.
In addition to the money and the passports, captain Lorik Cana was also given the key to Tirana, where the team was honored with an open-top bus parade, and the names of every player will be etched into a new national stadium.
It’s a nice reminder that a smaller team that doesn’t make the big headlines around the world and goes out early at a major tournament can still mean a great deal to their country.