Competing at the finals of a major tournament for the very first time, Albania faced Romania in their final Group A match, knowing that only a victory would offer any chance of progressing to the knock-out stages, but only if results in the other group games also went their way.
Having started the tournament with a 1-0 defeat against Switzerland in Lens, Albania headed to Marseille for their second group match against host nation France. A 2-0 reverse followed with Gianni De Biasi's side still searching for their first goal at the finals as they went into the third group match against Romania. With four of the six third-placed teams progressing to the next stage of the competition, even a win would leave Albania with a few days wait to discover if their journey had come to an end.
Born in the Albanian municipality of Cërrik in 1991, Sadiku was playing on-loan at Swiss Super League side Vaduz from parent club Zurich at the time of EURO 2016, and had scored just one goal for Albania during qualification as he added the third in a 3-0 win over Armenia. However, three goals in friendlies against Luxembourg, Qatar and Ukraine in the build-up to the finals meant that he was in good form heading to France that summer.
After 43 minutes, Sadiku made history with a guided header that sparked wild celebrations amongst the Albanian fans. “It is of course hugely emotional,” said Sadiku after the match. “We already achieved our goal, and for that we are very happy. I am very satisfied to score but the credit goes to the whole team. It was a very emotional moment. A very happy moment to see all the Albanians, to make them happy and see them rejoicing. For this I am very pleased.”
“I'm sure we gave huge joy to the Albanian fans,” said manager De Biasi. “Not just the Albanians in Albania, but Albanians who live around the world. Today, we got what we could've got in the first two games. You need to score to get results. We contained a team that has quality and strength and conceded just two goals in qualifying. We got there with heart and quality. We played with our heads and mental strength. This is what I'd like us to do in every game.”
Despite the glorious scenes and celebrations that followed the victory, it was not enough to earn Albania a place in the round of 16 as results over the course of the next three days confirmed that they would return home. While their immediate disappointment was clear, the memory of their greatest night only becomes sweeter over time, and Armando Sadiku will forever remain a national team hero for his famous goal.