Football fans risk imprisonment and life stadium bans under new gov’t law

Football fans risk imprisonment and life stadium bans under new gov’t law

TIRANA, Mar. 11 – The Albanian government proposed severe punishments, including imprisonment, to avoid violent episodes in football stadiums, such as the March 3 attack on the referee of the Superliga Kamza-Laci, who was violated not only by fans who

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Replacing ‘me-time’ with ‘we-time’ at Tirona vs Partizani

Replacing ‘me-time’ with ‘we-time’ at Tirona vs Partizani

By Sidonja Manushi  Willingly – and excitedly even – going to a football match in Albania as a woman is worth it even just for the looks on people’s faces when you tell them you’ll be spending your Friday evening

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Albania’s first professional club set for Superliga comeback as it marks 100th birthday

Albania’s first professional club set for Superliga comeback as it marks 100th birthday

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Feb. 25 – The 100th birthday has found Vllaznia, one of Albania’s top teams, and the northern city of Shkodra, home to the first professional Albanian football club, in a tough moment as the local team

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Euro 2020: Panucci believes Albania can make it in more defensive style

Euro 2020: Panucci believes Albania can make it in more defensive style

TIRANA, Feb. 11 – Albania’s Italian coach is confident a switch to a more defensive football and some key players making a comeback following injury could see Albania make it through another miracle qualification for the Euro 2020, the same

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Albanian football president joins UEFA executive committee

Albanian football president joins UEFA executive committee

TIRANA, Feb. 7 – Albania’s football association president Armand Duka has managed to get a seat at the executive committee of UEFA, the European football’s governing body, becoming the first Albanian to join UEFA’s supreme executive body. The long-serving Albanian

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Albania’s reigning champions in crisis over severe UEFA match-fixing ban

Albania’s reigning champions in crisis over severe UEFA match-fixing ban

TIRANA, Feb. 6 – Albania’s reigning champions Skenderbeu are officially in crisis after suffering their sixth consecutive Superliga defeat in a situation that reflects financial problems and uncertainties ahead as they await a final say by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration

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Albanian football association in legal battle with gov’t over ‘denied’ UEFA tax refunds

Albanian football association in legal battle with gov’t over ‘denied’ UEFA tax refunds

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Jan. 30 – Failure to settle amicably a tax dispute on the under-construction National Arena stadium, the new home of Albania’s national side in the Albanian capital city Tirana, has taken Albania’s football association and the

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Talent split affecting Albania’s national side, says ex-captain Cana

Talent split affecting Albania’s national side, says ex-captain Cana

TIRANA, Jan. 23 – Albania’s retired captain Lorik Cana says the difficult moment that Albania has been facing following the major France 2016 appearance is also a result of ethnic Albanian talents having split into two national sides following Kosovo’s

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Albania’s top striker back to Switzerland after disappointing spells in Spain, Poland

Albania’s top striker back to Switzerland after disappointing spells in Spain, Poland

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Jan. 16 – Albanian international Armando Sadiku is back to Switzerland following a disappointing one-and-a-half year spell at Poland and Spain top leagues marred by few playing opportunities and injuries that kept him off the pitch

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Albania U21s drawn against Kosovo as rivalry over talents gets tougher

Albania U21s drawn against Kosovo as rivalry over talents gets tougher

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Dec. 14 – Albania’s under-21s have been drawn against Kosovo for the 2021 European Championship qualifiers in the first official encounter between the two neighboring Albanian-speaking countries since Kosovo’s 2016 admission as a UEFA and FIFA

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 11 - The Albanian government proposed severe punishments, including imprisonment, to avoid violent episodes in football stadiums, such as the March 3 attack on the referee of the Superliga Kamza-Laci, who was violated not only by fans who entered the pitch, but also from Kamza Club heads. 

At a meeting with the Football Federation, where he went accompanied by some government cabinet members and heads of parliamentary committees, Prime Minister Edi Rama stated that the government would intervene in the Criminal Code and make crossing the field’s white lines and entering into the pitch punished with three years of prison. 

“Whoever crosses the white lines and enters the green carpet is a physical threat to those who are there doing their job, be it footballers, or referees. So it is necessary to urgently discuss it and apply this penalty immediately, at least three years, Rama added.

In addition to imprisonment, the government is also considering also overviewing stadium expulsion for life for perpetrators.

The episodes of violence have long caused controversy between State Police and the Football Federation, as the law does not foresee that security at the stadium be entrusted to the police.

To overcome this situation, Rama proposed implementing a formula already tested as he said in Germany or Spain "where the interior ministries, in cooperation with the Federation and the Professional League, agreed and signed the so-called Security Regulation for stadiums.”

According to Rama there is a need for an agreement and in this agreement the police should be directly involved in the security of the match, even within the field according to the defined needs and under the terms of the agreement in cooperation with the Federation.

Rama also stated that "the problem of violence and the interventions in the Criminal Code must be done quickly and give a clear message that nobody will be tolerated at this point.”

 
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                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi 

Willingly - and excitedly even - going to a football match in Albania as a woman is worth it even just for the looks on people’s faces when you tell them you’ll be spending your Friday evening watching legendary Tirona vs Partizani. But it’s definitely not the only reason. 

A football match is very much like a ritual. Actually, considering how F.K.Tirana fans call their team God, calling it a ritual is probably the most fitting word. 

Tirona fanatics come at a derby such as the one against Partizani (which remains undefeated by FK Tirana over the last five years) about six to five hours ahead of the game. They sit in small, not very fancy, but shady under trees coffee shops, wearing blue and white hats, shirts, scarves, and think ahead of the moment they won’t be able to drink inside the football stadium by downing as many beers as possible. 

Of course, part of the gathering process is dividing the hiding spots for all those firecrackers and pyro that we see explode inside important derbys like this although we know it’s illegal. Here too, girls are invaluable, hiding most of the equipment in places no one dares search them and sneaking in bottles of rakia as if it’s water much more efficiently than their fellow male trouble-makers. Too bad only a handful of girls attend matches, let alone be club fans who enjoy to harmlessly break the law. 

By the time police start arriving around the Selman Stërmasi stadium (home ground of the club named after eminent KF Tirana player, coach and president, Selman Stërmasi), chants dipped in excitement and cursing can already be heard, just like the occasional tipsy fan cracking a joke and then smiling devilishly at the young boys still leaving an elementary school close-by. At this point, beers are being passed around from one person to the other, and I’m guessing it’s not because the store is too far away, but because these fans communicate as if they’re part of a family and, in a family, sharing is caring. 

Another reason is that when you’re drinking time flies and, before anyone knows it it’s already one hour and a half to the game; a clear sign that entering any minute later will mean too much traffic at the entrances. Seeing even tourists - sun-kissed Germans and Dutch youths with a passion for football probably having found out about the game - sitting around the stadium’s edges, makes entering the stadium at 4:30 pm actually make sense. 

Passing through those gates marks the moment things stop making sense - or even need to.

Gate D slowly starts filling up with blue and white, with men, boys and children (and the occasional girl) banging their feet on the old plastic chairs that haven’t had someone actually sit in them in ages. They chant old and new songs and shout at the opposing side of the field, where a considerably smaller group of red-dressed fanatic fans is supporting FK Partizani.

“I know half of the guys there. We don’t really hate each other. But in this stadium we do. And in this stadium, we need to crash them,” a man noticing me take pictures of the ‘reds’ tells me confidently, and then turns in their direction holding his middle fingers up.

Not being allowed to bring many supporters at a Tirana home game, Partizani has gone all out and hired a Partizani-clad paraglider roam around the stadium about an hour before the match starts, forcing you to turn your eyes on the sky. 

Tirona fanatics do not spare their curses at him too. 

As expected, the match itself doesn’t hold much of a significance. Not because it is dull, although none of the teams ended up scoring a goal, but because the feast and atmosphere that surrounds it is much more remarkable. 

A football stadium - maybe more so than stadiums of any other sport - is a place where you can feel truly alive for 90 minutes. It is the kind of playground that makes you forget your routine, stress of daily life, that annoying co-worker or the insecurity of the future. Those moments of cheering over a ball and a football jersey are priceless and can be felt just as passionately in a pitch somewhere in a village as they do in the most crowded of stadiums.

Sometimes, during wine conversations with male and female friends who consider themselves too intellectual to watch football - and especially an Albanian match attended by “hood guys” - I have heard that football is particularly likable for apathetic boys who need to belong in a group, often lacking individuality. 

But the need to belong to a group, be part of something bigger than ourselves, is part of being human, that which Aristotle called being a “social animal.” And, in a world constantly asking you to prove, offer or possess something to feel as if you belong, rare are the places that remain without judgment and criteria, but rather welcoming of whoever is willing and capable to cheer and let go of societal norms for almost two hours. 

Consider it as your get-out-of-the-comfort-zone activity for the next time you get a chance to watch a live football match. 
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                    [post_date] => 2019-02-25 16:37:48
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Feb. 25 - The 100th birthday has found Vllaznia, one of Albania’s top teams, and the northern city of Shkodra, home to the first professional Albanian football club, in a tough moment as the local team struggles to climb back to the top flight of Albanian football following an embarrassing relegation last year.

However, enthusiasm in Shkodra, the largest northern Albanian city, has not waned and local authorities are celebrating 2019 as the ‘Vllaznia year’ with a series of events, commemorating a century of achievements in football and other sports where Shkodra players and athletes have excelled at local and international level.

Established in February 1919, the Vllaznia sports society was Albania’s first to feature a professional football club, with amateur football having already been played in town since the early 20th century after it was introduced by a Maltese priest who brought the first real ball while serving in Shkodra.

A century on, Vllaznia has been one of the elite Albanian football clubs, but currently face one of their worst times, being out of the top flight of Albanian football, although they are bound to make a quick Superliga comeback, comfortably leading their First Division Group A with eight games remaining.

Vllaznia’s 2018 relegation came amid growing financial problems and at a time when the club had been out of the top five since 2011-2012 campaign and failed to attract any investor interest following much-rumored privatization plans.

The last time Vllaznia was earlier demoted was six decades ago in the early 1960s. The Shkodra-based club have mostly been uncompetitive since the early 2000s when they claimed their last Superliga title.

The shock 2018 relegation finds Vllaznia out of the top flight of Albanian football for their hundredth anniversary, but competitive with a series of other team and individual sports.

Having produced some of Albania’s best talents, Vllaznia is the eldest club in the country and have won nine championship titles and six Albanian Cups.

With eight games to go, Vllaznia are set to make a quick Superliga comeback, just like Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club did in 2018 following a humiliating first-ever relegation.

After an initial two stages, Vllaznia hold a comfortable 6-point lead over second-placed Erzeni in a new play-off stage that will feature the top five teams of Group A fighting to earn a single Superliga promotion place.

"Vllaznia are only half way through. Of course the 6-point lead makes us feel comfortable during the third stage but that's where the tough road begins,” coach Hasan Lika has told reporters.

“We have to keep up this pace and take every game seriously. Vllaznia will do its best to make the return to the Superliga easier,” he adds.

 

‘Nation’s honor’ medal

On its hundredth anniversary, the Vllaznia sports club has been honored with the Nation's Honor presidential decoration “as one of the first intellectual organizations in Albania with historic contribution and results in sports, a grassroots of talents who have supported Vllaznia and the national side, renowned for its quality athletes and teams and being special in the manifestation of the best values in sports, deserving respect and great love by Shkodra citizens and all Albanians.”

The Vllaznia (Brotherhood) society was set up in 1919 with a focus on sports, but also engaged in cultural and patriotic events at a time when Albania had only declared its independence in 1912 and the country’s independence and territorial unity was still at risk by occupying forces.

“This society was set up as an expression of freedom at a dramatic moment when their city [Shkodra] risked remaining out of the nation's borders,” President Meta said visiting Shkodra last weekend, when he awarded medals to great late and living Vllaznia legends in football and other sports including weightlifting and wrestling.

“The union of Shkodra people into the Vllaznia society no matter what their religious affiliation, convictions or ideas is one of the greatest messages of insatiable spiritual wealth and the Albanian aspiration to build a united and prosperous society,” he added.

Shkodra Mayor Voltana Ademi, who also supervises the Vllaznia management as a wholly local government-owned club, described February 16, 1919 as a historic day for Shkodra and Albania.

“February 16 is a historic day not only for Shkodra but the whole nation. The red and blue are the colors of a city, history and values that have made us proud and kept us united all the time,” said Ademi.

“Vllaznia (Brotherhood) means a lot to this city. This name is not only sports, it's history, spirit, passion, emotion, joy and victory. Vllaznia has accompanied all generations, children in all neighborhoods. Vllaznia is our pride, the dream of those who created it and the trust of everybody of us,” she added.

Loro Boriçi is apparently Shkodra’s most famous player with the local stadium named after him.

A Shkodra-born player, late Boriçi started his career with local Vllaznia club in 1937 and also played a couple of seasons with Italy’s Lazio in 1941-43, before returning home to play for several local clubs and the national side which he also led later as a coach.

Shkodra’s 16,000-seat ‘Loro Borici’ stadium was renovated in 2016 and also occasionally hosts the national side’s home matches.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 11 – Albania’s Italian coach is confident a switch to a more defensive football and some key players making a comeback following injury could see Albania make it through another miracle qualification for the Euro 2020, the same as they did in the 2016 qualifiers when they earned their first-ever appearance at a major competition.

Christian Panucci, who has been in charge of Albania since mid-2017, was reconfirmed as Albania coach in November 2018 despite failing at the inaugural UEFA Nations League campaign and losing a series of friendlies in lackluster performance that irritated both fans and football pundits.

However, the former Italy international who played top European clubs but had little experience as a coach when succeeding compatriot De Biasi who led Albania to France 2016, believes key absences from the former De Biasi and a more attacking football he was experimenting with were the key reasons behind failure.

With slightly more than a month to go before Albania takes on the opening qualifier, a home encounter against Turkey, Panucci believes Albania can make it to the top two in a tough group stage where France are undisputed favorites for a top finish and Iceland, Turkey and Albania will rival for a second spot that also earns direct qualification for the Euro 2020 finals.

Having also lost much of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign shine during the past couple of years, Albania missed a chance to keep Euro 2020 qualification hopes alive through the inaugural UEFA Nations League by finishing bottom in their League C Group 1 that also featured Scotland and Israel.

Assuming responsibility for the poor results under what he calls a ‘test period,’ the 45-year-old Italian believes a more defensive football like Albania used to play under De Biasi and newly recovered key players who missed most of the 2018 games, will give a boost to Albania’s Euro 2020 prospects.

“2018 was terrible and ugly. Albania is recovering some key players and we hope 2019 will provide some good results. I had unveiled we would be experimenting in one and a half years. We didn't receive positive reaction and will now start over safer switching more backwards. We will have a defensive team which could lead us to success,” Panucci has told a local TV.

Albania has lost eight out of 14 games under Panucci, most of which friendlies but also three Nations League qualifiers against Scotland and Israel, in one of the poorest track records in decades, placing the Italian under constant pressure and making his stay uncertain until last November when Albania claimed a morale booster in a home friendly against tougher Wales.

“I have noticed that when I asked the team to play more open football, we were so fragile. Now we have to close the gaps and be more compact. On our way, because of injuries or suspensions, there will be new players receiving a call, but we already have our group,” says Panucci.

The Italian has called up 22 new players since mid-2017, but only a handful are expected to receive fresh calls for the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The recovery of striker Armando Sadiku who recently moved back to Switzerland following failed short-term spells in Poland and Spain and right winger Odise Roshi leaving behind a knee injury and restarting training in Russia are good news for the Albanian national side.

In addition, Elseid Hysaj is back to the starting eleven with top Italian side Napoli and striker Sokol Cikalleshi has regained shape, scoring in the top Turkish top league.

Two goalkeepers that regularly start with Lazio and Atalanta in the Italian Serie A are also a strength, but the defence and midfield remain weak points that Panucci has to settle.

Panucci believes that just like his predecessor De Biasi, who had a tough start with the national side, he can do better.

“I am really happy to be Albania's coach. Of course I am not happy with the 2018 results, but I am proud to be the coach of this country. One thing is for sure. When I chose the Albanian national side, it was one of the toughest European sides one could pick. That was because it had already qualified for the European championship and under those circumstances you needed to either be mad or have much confidence. And I am still convinced that this team could still do pretty well,” Panucci has said.

 

Argentinian “Arberesh” 

Tomas Guidara could become the first Argentina-born player to join Albania because of his ethnic Albanian roots. The 22-year-old Argentinian currently plays as a defender for top Argentina league side Belgrano and could become eligible to join Albania because of his ethnic Albanian “Arberesh” parents who migrated to Argentina from Italy. Southern Italy is the host of a centuries-old Albanian minority who moved there in the 15th century following the death of Albania’s national hero, Skanderbeg, and the Ottomans resuming control of the country after being ousted for a quarter of century.

“Tomas Guidara is an Arberesh, I have talked to him. He is a right-back and currently his family and the football association are negotiating to reach a deal. Procedures have already kicked off and he could be handed the Albanian passport and is willing to come. I have also had cases of other players initially accepting and then changing their minds, but I will tell you more when he gets the Albanian passport,” Panucci has said about the Argentina-based player.

Guidara is a regular starter for Belgrano at the Argentina top league, but his team has been struggling this season, ranking second-to-last after finishing 13th out of 28 last year.

Albania regularly hires plays of ethnic Albanian roots who were born in Kosovo, Switzerland, Italy and Greece but has been facing tougher rivalry with Kosovo which since mid-2016 has its own national side eligible to play in major competitions following FIFA recognition, in a talent split that has also affected the quality of the Albanian national side.

 

Euro 2020 campaign

Albania will start their Euro 2020 qualifiers on March 22, 2019 with a home encounter against Turkey, a much more experienced national side, but who have been struggling to qualify for major tournaments during the past decade following a golden period in the 2000s.

Albania last played Turkey in a friendly in late 2017 to claim a surprise 3-2 away victory, apparently Pannuci’s best game under the lead of the national side. Both Albania and Turkey are equal on their 10 encounters so far with each having claimed four wins and drawn twice since the early 1970s.

“All four [Group H] top teams reached the Euro 2016 and this is the reason it will be a very tough group. The opening game against Turkey is very important as it can give us new equilibrium in the group stage. The target is to make it to the top two so that we can qualify, but we should not forget the reality and understand that Albania is ranked fourth in the group,” says Panucci.

“If we make it and I am convinced that we can, then everybody will be happy, but if we fail and the football association president is not happy, Panucci goes home, but this is the last thing that I think and the important thing is doing my best," he adds.

Few days after the opening game against Turkey, Albania travels to Andorra, the bottom-ranked team in Group H of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The national side are hopeful they will be playing their June 11 home qualifier against Moldova at the under-construction National Arena, the new home of the national side, already in its final stage of construction that is hampered by a €2 million tax dispute with the tax authorities.

Iceland will be another tough opponent for Albania in their bid for a second spot finish having become the smallest nation by population to qualify for the Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup finals, but disappointing in their Nations League campaign last year.

Former Albania coach Gianni De Biasi who led the national side to the finals of France 2016, the national side's first ever appearance to a major tournament, says Albania stands real chances to claim another qualification.

“Albania should believe in the second spot and in qualification. In the Euro 2016 campaign, Portugal had the stature of present-day France but Serbia and Denmark are not like Iceland and Turkey with all due respect [for the latter],” De Biasi has earlier said.

“I believe Albania will rival through the end for a second spot with Island and Turkey,” he adds.
                    [post_title] => Euro 2020: Panucci believes Albania can make it in more defensive style
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 7 - Albania's football association president Armand Duka has managed to get a seat at the executive committee of UEFA, the European football's governing body, becoming the first Albanian to join UEFA's supreme executive body.

The long-serving Albanian football president was one of the ten male candidates who had applied for seven available seats on the UEFA Eeecutive committee and finished sixth with 36 votes in favour out of 55 European member associations with a right to vote.

Duka's victory comes after a previous failure to get elected with the executive committee in April 2017, soon after he claimed his fifth consecutive four-year term as head of the Albanian football association.

"Honored to be the first to represent Albanian football at the highest UEFA governing body. It's strong trust and responsibility for me and Albanian football," Duka commented on social media.

Duka will serve a four-year term for the 2019-23 period at the UEFA Executive committee.

The 55-year incumbent president and businessman has been in office as the president of Albania’s most popular sport since 2002 and managed to get re-elected for a fifth term in early 2017 when he beat a former Prime Minister and current ruling Socialist Party MP in a tough race.
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                    [post_date] => 2019-02-06 18:42:13
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 6 – Albania’s reigning champions Skenderbeu are officially in crisis after suffering their sixth consecutive Superliga defeat in a situation that reflects financial problems and uncertainties ahead as they await a final say by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport over a 10-year European competition ban handed by European football’s governing body, UEFA, last year over match-fixing.

Having dominated Albanian football in the past decade and being the sole Albanian club to make it to the group stage of the Europa League competition, Skenderbeu started the 2018-19 campaign as a top favorite and dominated the first 11 Superliga games.

However, the Korça-based club, southeastern Albania, nicknamed “The snow wolves” lost sharp ground last December as they lost all four games.

The critical situation continued even after the winter break as Skenderbeu lost at home to leaders Partizani and was also beaten away to relegation-zone Kastrioti during the past week following the resumption of the Superliga’s second stage on Jan. 25.

Having played 20 games, and with still another 16 to go before the Superliga closes, Skenderbeu have dropped to fifth with 30 points, trailing leaders Partizani by 13 points and with few chances to repeat the 2018 Superliga success which would nevertheless make them ineligible to compete in European competitions due to a UEFA ban in force since March 2018.

The situation reflects key departures from last year’s winning team that continued even in the January transfer window with the transfer of Kosovo international, defender Fidan Aliti, to Sweden's top league side Kalmar for a reported €150,000 on a four-year deal with Skenderbeu retaining a 25 percent stake on the player.

"The departures are hampering our squad, but are justified based on club policies following what happened at European competition," says Orges Shehi, a goalkeeper and captain until a couple of years ago who led Skenderbeu to several trophies before taking over as coach in mid-2018.

"The results have really been not decent for Skenderbeu, but we will do our best to return to victories," Shehi said ahead of an Albania Cup second-leg qualifier with lower-division Beselidhja which Skenderbeu won 3-0 to qualify for the Cup quarter finals where they will meet Superliga rivals, bottom-ranked Kamza.

Skenderbeu claimed their eighth Superliga trophy last season, with seven of their titles earned during the past decade when they dominated Albanian football and became the first ever Albania club to make it to the Europa League group stage with two appearance in the 2015-16 and 2017-18 campaigns.

The 10-year ban and a €1 million fine handed by European football’s governing body, UEFA, in March 2018 made Skenderbeu ineligible to compete in this season international competition where Albanian clubs failed to make it to the group stage of either the Champions League or Europa League.

UEFA’s disciplinary body handed Skenderbeu the ban over 50 matched the club is suspected to have fixed in the Champions League and Europa League campaigns as well as in the Albanian Superliga and in friendlies since 2011 based on its betting fraud detection system. The new ban follows an earlier 2016-2017 ban from the UEFA Champions League campaign, which the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld following Skenderbeu’s appeal.

Skenderbeu deny claims and are hopeful of overturning the UEFA punishment, the severest ever handed to a European club, but prospects are Skenderbeu could be lucky to get away with a reduction of their 10-year ban which would still place the club’s future at risk.

 

Partizani take advantage

Albania’s Partizani have emerged as top favorites to claim a long-awaited Superliga title this season in what could be a major triumph for an elite Albanian club that has been trophiless at the top flight of the country’s football during the past quarter of a century.

With Skenderbeu on six-game losing streak, the Tirana-based club have ousted their key rival and now hold a comfortable five-point lead over second-placed Kukes, a team with not much history but who have been highly competitive in the past five years in a performance that peaked in 2017 when they claimed their first-ever Superliga trophy.

Partizani easily qualified this week for the last eight of the Albanian Cup and will face in the quarter finals Superliga rivals Luftetari who have lost much of their last season's shine that secured their a first ever Europa League qualifier.

Once the most successful Albanian club under communism, Partizani have struggled since 1993 when they claimed their last top league title in a tough transition period as the country switched to a multi-party system and a market economy following almost five decades under a hardline Stalinist dictatorship.

Partizani take to this year’s campaign in an Albanian-led team after a failed short-term experience with an Italian duo last year.

Partizani’s 2017-18 campaign project with Lucciano Moggi, the former Juventus managing director who is suffering a lifetime ban from Italian football for his role in the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal, and former Juventus player Mark Iuliano who only had a short spell as Partizani coach, failed to produce any result with Partizani ranking fifth and failing to progress through the Europa League qualification campaign last season.

Meanwhile, Albania’s historically most successful club, Tirana, continue facing problems this season following their Superliga comeback after an embarrassing first-ever relegation last year, and rank seventh just five points above relegation-threatened Kastrioti and Kamza thanks to series of positive results in the past few games.

The Albanian Superliga features 10 teams, two of which are relegated following a four-stage 36-game championship.
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-30 12:29:17
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Jan. 30 – Failure to settle amicably a tax dispute on the under-construction National Arena stadium, the new home of Albania’s national side in the Albanian capital city Tirana, has taken Albania’s football association and the government to court where football officials are seeking back €2 million in value added tax refunds.

Albania’s football association says failure to get back €2 million in VAT refunds from UEFA funding of €10 million risks the completion of the National Arena stadium. The so called ‘tower stadium’ was initially scheduled to become operational in early 2019 ahead of Albania’s first Euro 2020 qualifiers in March, but delays in construction works and a tax dispute have now postponed plans for initial tests to mid-2019 and the stadium is likely to be ready for next September or November when Albania play their closing home Euro qualifiers against Iceland, Andorra and France.

The legal battle at the first instance Tirana Administrative Court comes after a tax appeals body of the finance ministry turned down a complaint over VAT refunds due to delays in applying with tax authorities to get back the 20 percent amount.

Both the Albanian football association and the government are joint venture partners in the enterprise set up in 2014 to oversee the construction of the new stadium in the country.

The majority 75 percent stake at the “Qendra Sportive Kuq e Zi’ company [The Red and Black sports center named after Albania’s national side jersey] is held by the football association with the remaining 25 percent minority stake held by the Albanian government.

"We were told by tax authorities that our [VAT refund] application was delayed for several days, but I don't think this is the case to cancel it. We appealed it with the finance ministry and it was again refused,” Football Association President Armand Duka said in a TV interview in late December 2018.

“I have talked to the Prime Minister and from the conversation I had with him, he is between two fires. The football association has obtained 100 percent of the stadium funds from UEFA and there can be no such financing where state authorities seek to take advantage of UEFA donations," he added.

According to Duka, last December’s visit to Albania by UEFA’s Secretary General Theodore Theodoridis, who also reportedly met Prime Minister Edi Rama, was also related to the tax dispute over funds donated by the European football’s governing body.

In an announcement on its website, the Tirana Administrative Court says the football association is seeking the cancellation of decisions by the Tirana Regional Directorate and the tax appeals body at the finance ministry and the initial trial was planned for Jan. 22, 2019.

However, unless settled amicably, the legal battle in Albania's three-tier administrative court system could take years due to a huge backlog of cases at the Administrative Appeals Court and the Administrative College of the Supreme Court, currently both functioning with limited staff due to a judiciary reform having ousted several judges for failing to justify their assets and delays in the establishment of the new justice bodies leading to key vacancies.

With construction works already in their final stage following the mid-2016 demolition of the old “Qemal Stafa” stadium, the football association has earlier warned failure to get back the €2 million tax refund would call the stadium completion into question.

The football association has hinted of politically motivated reasons behind the blockage, apparently related to incumbent football association head Armand Duka claiming a fifth consecutive term of office in early 2018 in a contested race by main rival Bashkim Fino, a former Prime Minister and current ruling Socialist Party MP.

 

New ‘tower’ stadium

The new ‘National Arena’ stadium is a €50 million public private partnership deal with a capacity of 22,000 seats that will also feature commercial, entertainment and accommodation facilities in a high-rise tower next to it. The Albanian football association has invested €10 million through UEFA funding.

An Albanian-owned company has invested €40 million to build the stadium in return for being offered public land and a permit to build a 24-storey tower next to it that will host commercial facilities, including a hotel that will be managed by US-based hotel giant Marriott International through a franchise deal with the developers, benefiting tax cuts as a high-end tourism investment in a popular downtown Tirana area.

The new National Arena stadium is being built on the site of former ‘Qemal Stafa’ stadium in Tirana, which ceased being used for international matches in 2013 after failing to meet international standards. Unlike the old stadium, the new facility has no athletics track, a key barrier for some of Albania’s athletes like Luiza Gega, a medal-winning middle-distance runner.

Former ‘Qemal Stafa’ stadium served as Albania’s national stadium for over 70 years since 1946 when it was inaugurated for the Balkan Cup as an Italian-designed facility.

Lacking a permanent home, the Albanian national football team has in the past five years played their home matches at the newly reconstructed Elbasan Arena and Shkodra stadiums, both reconstructed through government funding of around €14 million.

The Albanian football association which has invested around €10 million in the stadium project through UEFA funds will also get considerable facilities, but not have its headquarters there. The new football association headquarters that will also serve as an accommodation center for the national side are already being built elsewhere in Tirana at a former sports complex.

Albania will start their Euro 2020 qualifiers on March 22, 2019 with a home encounter against Turkey, a much more experienced national side, but who have been struggling to qualify for major tournaments during the past decade following a golden period in the 2000s.

Having missed a chance to keep qualifying hopes alive through the inaugural UEFA Nations League by finishing bottom in their League C, Group 1, and having also lost much of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign shine during the past couple of years, Albania will be trying for another miracle qualification in a tough group stage where France are undisputed favorites for a top finish and Iceland, Turkey and Albania will rival for a second spot that also earns direct qualification for the Euro 2020 finals.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 23 – Albania’s retired captain Lorik Cana says the difficult moment that Albania has been facing following the major France 2016 appearance is also a result of ethnic Albanian talents having split into two national sides following Kosovo’s recognition by European and world governing football bodies.

“They naturally represent Kosovo and automatically affect the quality of the Albanian national side which I believe has been through a transition period of what we want it to be in the long-run. It’s quite normal that a body gets weaker when half of blood flowing into it is missing,” says Cana, an internationally renowned former Kosovo-Albanian player who played top clubs in Italy and France and led Albania to a first-ever appearance at a major tournament such as the Euro 2016.

Rivalry over acquiring new talents of ethnic Albanian roots has been getting tough in the past couple of years, with some of the best players of Kosovo roots often picking the Kosovo national side.

In August 2016, soon after Kosovo was admitted as a FIFA member, three players of Kosovo roots, among whom Milot Rashica, a current Werder Bremen attacking midfielder at the German Bundesliga, left Albania for Kosovo, marking the first talent row between the two neighboring countries.

Almost half of Albania’s senior national side’s 24 men are of Kosovo-Albanian roots, and there are also players who were born in Switzerland, making them eligible to play for three national sides with Switzerland often coming as the first choice, followed by Albania and Kosovo.

The Xhaka and Ajeti brothers are split between Switzerland and Albania, making them unique in Europe.

Back in mid-2016, Arsenal playmaker and Swiss international Granit Xhaka and his elder Basel and Albanian international player Taulant became Europe’s first two brothers to face each other in a Euro 2016 final group stage fixture when debutant Albania played Switzerland.

Last December, Albania’s under-21s were drawn against Kosovo for the 2021 European Championship qualifiers in the first official encounter between the two neighboring Albanian-speaking countries since Kosovo’s 2016 admission as a UEFA and FIFA member. Both Albania and Kosovo face a tough challenge in a qualifying group that features three tougher rivals such as England, Austria and Turkey and modest Andorra.

Speaking with a Kosovo TV, former Albanian captain Cana says Europe’s newest national side has a golden chance to make it to the finals of Euro 2020 through its Nations League option, having secured a top spot in League D, Group 3 and facing opponents such as Macedonia, Georgia and Belarus if failing to make it through the traditional qualifiers where it needs to secure a top two finish.

Kosovo’s senior national side wrote history in their debut Nations League campaign last year, claiming promotion to League C and standing another chance for qualification to the Euro 2020 final stage, in a major success only few years after being admitted as UEFA and FIFA member following its independence from Serbia a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Albania failed to impress, missing a chance to keep qualifying hopes alive through the inaugural UEFA Nations League by finishing bottom in their League C, Group 1. Having also lost much of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign shine during the past couple of years, Albania will be trying for another miracle qualification in a tough group stage where France are undisputed favorites for a top finish and Iceland, Turkey and Albania will rival for a second spot that also earns direct qualification for the Euro 2020 finals.

The now 35-year-old former defender and midfielder quit international and club football in mid-2016 in premature retirement following health problems, but is remembered as an inspirational captain who led Albania to a major success under former Albania coach, Italian Gianni De Biasi.

Commenting on Albania’s lukewarm performance under coach Christian Panucci, the former Albania captain says the Italian should be given more time until the end of this year when Albania plays the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

“Panucci is a coach with a strong desire to achieve things but not everything has been going well for him. When taking over a team that made it to the final stage of the European championship, it’s too difficult to keep up the high level, especially when a young coach. Panucci now has more information and experience and he will be judged at the end of the qualifiers,” says Cana.

Having been in charge of Albania since mid-2017, under-fire Panucci was given another chance to lead Albania through the Euro 2020 qualifiers despite the national side's poor track record under his lead, having lost eight out of 14 games since taking over in mid-2017.

Panucci has blamed the situation on key players missing either because of injury or retirement and few playing opportunities with their clubs and has called up several new players as reinforcements, but only a couple of them have convinced.

Cana who now lives in Tirana together with his Italian wife and three-year-old son is attending a sporting director training course with the Albania’s football association, and has hinted he wants to embark on a career discovering new talents that could serve the Albanian national side.

Born in Kosovo, but raised in Switzerland, Cana began his professional career in France with Paris Saint Germain and also played for Marseille, Sunderland and Galatasaray before moving to Italy with Lazio in 2011 where he played four seasons.

He was a regular starter with the national side and much of the success in the Euro 2016 qualifiers is also dedicated to him.

Albania will start their Euro 2020 qualifiers on March 22, 2019 with a home encounter against Turkey, a much more experienced national side, but who have been struggling to qualify for major tournaments during the past decade following a golden period in the 2000s.
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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-16 11:57:09
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Jan. 16 – Albanian international Armando Sadiku is back to Switzerland following a disappointing one-and-a-half year spell at Poland and Spain top leagues marred by few playing opportunities and injuries that kept him off the pitch for a long time.

The 27-year-old striker has joined Switzerland’s Lugano, a team he played for about two years during 2012-2014 and half a season in 2017 before moving to Poland’s Legia Warsaw.

The transfer to Lugano, a team Sadiku considers his home is good news for the player himself who has been recovering from knee surgery following an injury in August 2018 and the Albanian national side that will have back its best striker of the past decade as it prepares for the major Euro 2020 qualifiers following a disappointing Nations League campaign.

No financial details have been disclosed from the transfer deal, but Spain’s Levante says they have let the player join on a buyback clause.

Sadiku played only six games with Levante since joining in January 2018 from Poland’s Legia Warsaw in one of his worst seasons also marred by a knee injury that ultimately put him out of the Levante’s plans.

His experience at Spain’s La Liga was more disappointing compared to Legia Warsaw where he spent half a season until January 2018, but scored seven goals in a performance that led to a €1 million transfer deal to Levante.

"I am happy to be back with Lugano. I have been receiving knee treatment for five months and I have been back training with Levante for one month and am ready to play now. I have been through some difficult months but now I am psychologically fit and want to give my best,” Sadiku has told Swiss media.

"The unfavorable experiences in Poland and Spain gave me more strength and made me get back to the highest levels,” he adds.

Sadiku joins Levante at a difficult moment at a time when the Swiss side are struggling just above the relegation zone with 19 points from 18 matches, ranking 8th in the ten-team Swiss Super League.

He joins Lugano in a bid to repeat his 2017 success when he helped them finish third and earn Europa League appearance on a half-a season loan from Zurich, scoring nine goals to help the Swiss side climb from relegation zone to a surprise top three.

Sadiku has been a key player for the national side since joining in 2012 and his absence during the second half of last year was blamed by Italian coach Chritian Panucci as one of the key reasons for the national side’s lukewarm performance at the Nations League.

The 27-year-old striker has scored 11 goals in 33 appearances with the national side helping Albania achieve a first-ever qualification at a major tournament such as Euro 2016. He also scored Albania’s sole goal at the Euro 2016 group stage games as Albania beat Romania 1-0 but failed to make it the knockout stage.

Having started his career in his hometown of Elbasan, central Albania, Sadiku played in Switzerland for six years with clubs such as Zurich and Lugano before joining Legia Warsaw in July 2017 and Levante in January 2018.

His comeback at a team such as Lugano where he is guaranteed as a starter will also help him get back to shape and earn a place at the national side ahead of the Euro 2020 kickoff.

Albania will start their Euro 2020 qualifiers on March 22, 2019 with a home encounter against Turkey, a much a much more experienced national side, but which have been struggling to qualify for major tournaments during the past decade following a golden period in the 2000s.

Albania have been drawn in a tough Euro 2020 qualifying campaign group stage with reigning world champions France and will apparently be fighting for a second spot with Iceland and Turkey in a bid to repeat their 2016 success when they earned a first ever qualification to the finals of a major tournament.
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                    [post_content] => albania 2By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Dec. 14 – Albania’s under-21s have been drawn against Kosovo for the 2021 European Championship qualifiers in the first official encounter between the two neighboring Albanian-speaking countries since Kosovo’s 2016 admission as a UEFA and FIFA member.

Both Albania and Kosovo face a tough challenge in a qualifying group that features three tougher rivals such as England, Austria and Turkey and modest Andorra.

Albania and Kosovo will play their first Group 3 qualifier on Oct. 15, 2019 in what will be Albania's fifth qualifier after opening their qualifying campaign on March 23 with a home fixture against Turkey.

The local ‘Albanian derby’ comes at a time when rivalry between the two national sides over picking players of Albanian roots has become tougher since 2016 after Kosovo was admitted as a full FIFA member and Kosovo’s senior national side wrote history in their debut Nations League campaign by claiming promotion to League C and standing another chance for qualification to the Euro 2020 final stage in case of failing to make it through the traditional qualifiers format.

Albania’s senior and U21 national sides feature several players of Kosovo roots, but Albania’s lackluster performances following the major France 2016 appearance and Kosovo in better shape during the past year, have made the Albanian national side no longer a top choice for many key players of Kosovo roots with rivalry over top talents of ethnic Albanian roots getting tougher.

Not hiding rivalry, Albania’s U21 coach Alban Bushi considers the qualifier as a game that has to be won, the same like every other group stage qualifier.

"I received Kosovo like every other team, we will try hard. There are three or four players who said they would be joining us, but then changed their mind and picked Kosovo. It was their choice," says 45-year-old Bushi, a former Albanian international.

"The encounter against Kosovo will be tough, like with every other team. It's like the other teams and it has to be won," Bushi has told a local sports portal.

Albania’s U21s who also feature several players of ethnic Albanian Kosovo and Macedonian roots take to the Euro 2021 qualifiers following a disappointing campaign for the Euro 2018 qualifiers as they finished second from bottom in a tough group stage led by Spain

Kosovo's U21 coach Rafet Prekazi says he considers the special fixture a brotherly encounter that has to be played professionally.

"Of course we are brothers, but now we are two separate teams and the players and I consider this only a football match," Prekazi has told Kosovo media.

Kosovo’s U21 also take to the Euro 2021 qualifiers after finishing second from bottom in their debut Euro qualifiers in a tough group stage led by Germany, but collecting five points more compared to Albania.

The last time the two U21 national sides played each other was at a January 2016 friendly that ended in a 1-1 draw.

Meanwhile, the last time the two senior national sides faced each other was in a friendly in late May 2018 when Kosovo thrashed Albania 3-0 in a local derby that saw tough rivalry on the pitch.

Nine group winners plus co-hosts Hungary and Slovenia directly qualify for U21 Euro 2021 while the two best runners-up advance to the play-offs for a final spot.

The Albania U21s will play their first leg encounter against England on Nov. 15, 2019.

The U-21 Euro 2021 qualifiers take place between March 2019 and October 2020, with the 2019 schedule corresponding to Albania’s senior national side's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign against France, Iceland and Turkey.

 

Rivalry over senior talents 

Almost half of Albania’s senior national side’s 24 men are of Kosovo-Albanian roots, and there are also players who were born in Switzerland, making them eligible to play for three national sides with Switzerland often coming as the first choice, followed by Albania and Kosovo.

In August 2016, soon after Kosovo was admitted as a FIFA member, three players of Kosovo roots, among whom Milot Rashica, a current Werder Bremen attacking midfielder at the German Bundesliga, left Albania for Kosovo, marking the first talent row between the two neighboring countries.

Kosovo’s Swiss coach, Bernard Challandes, says rivalry with Albania over convincing players of Kosovo roots to play for Kosovo is a big problem for him and faces fierce competition with Albania and their Italian coach Christian Panucci.

“Competition with Albania is not a small problem for me. Both Panucci and I are aware about this and try hard about good players,” Challandes, an experienced Swiss coach, said earlier this year ahead of an Albania-Kosovo friendly.

Meanwhile, Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci says rivalry is not only with Kosovo but also with Switzerland, where dozens of players of Albanian roots play.

“As far as talents are concerned, Albanians are divided into three countries and I have my scouts with whom I try to follow everybody. Then, if I see good elements, I introduce them with the call to join Albania, but the choice is in their hand,” Panucci has earlier said.

The Xhaka brothers are unique in Europe with the younger Arsenal playmaker and Swiss international Granit Xhaka and his elder Basel and Albanian international player becoming Europe’s first two brothers to face each other in a Euro 2016 final group stage fixture when debutant Albania played Switzerland.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania U21s drawn against Kosovo as rivalry over talents gets tougher
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            [post_date] => 2019-03-15 10:29:23
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Mar. 11 - The Albanian government proposed severe punishments, including imprisonment, to avoid violent episodes in football stadiums, such as the March 3 attack on the referee of the Superliga Kamza-Laci, who was violated not only by fans who entered the pitch, but also from Kamza Club heads. 

At a meeting with the Football Federation, where he went accompanied by some government cabinet members and heads of parliamentary committees, Prime Minister Edi Rama stated that the government would intervene in the Criminal Code and make crossing the field’s white lines and entering into the pitch punished with three years of prison. 

“Whoever crosses the white lines and enters the green carpet is a physical threat to those who are there doing their job, be it footballers, or referees. So it is necessary to urgently discuss it and apply this penalty immediately, at least three years, Rama added.

In addition to imprisonment, the government is also considering also overviewing stadium expulsion for life for perpetrators.

The episodes of violence have long caused controversy between State Police and the Football Federation, as the law does not foresee that security at the stadium be entrusted to the police.

To overcome this situation, Rama proposed implementing a formula already tested as he said in Germany or Spain "where the interior ministries, in cooperation with the Federation and the Professional League, agreed and signed the so-called Security Regulation for stadiums.”

According to Rama there is a need for an agreement and in this agreement the police should be directly involved in the security of the match, even within the field according to the defined needs and under the terms of the agreement in cooperation with the Federation.

Rama also stated that "the problem of violence and the interventions in the Criminal Code must be done quickly and give a clear message that nobody will be tolerated at this point.”

 
            [post_title] => Football fans risk imprisonment and life stadium bans under new gov’t law 
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