Italy knights Albania coach Gianni de Biasi

TIRANA, Albania -- Italy has awarded Gianni de Biasi, an Italian who coaches the Albanian national team, with the Medal of the Star, graded as a Knight, for promoting the country in the sport.

An embassy statement Wednesday said Italian Ambassador Alberto Cutillo awarded the medal to De Biasi the previous evening "for his contribution to further strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two countries and to promote Albania's image abroad," adding that "before politics De Biasi managed to bring Albania into Europe."

Albania is expecting to start EU membership talks.

The 60-year-old De Biasi, who has been Albania's coach for the last five years, led the country to the 2016 European Championship, the first major tournament the country has ever reached.