Albania to play Bosnia friendly after bidding adieu to World Cup qualifying bid

Albania to play Bosnia friendly after bidding adieu to World Cup qualifying bid

TIRANA, March 27 – Albania will play a home friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday evening after bidding adieu to its World Cup qualifying bid with a third straight loss against Italy. The home test against one of the

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De Biasi calls up Albanian Superliga reinforcements for Italy encounter

De Biasi calls up Albanian Superliga reinforcements for Italy encounter

TIRANA, March 23 – With some key absences due to booking and injury, coach Gianni De Biasi has called up four players from the Albanian Superliga and a Croatia League midfielder to compensate for some key defensive absences and some

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World Cup qualifying campaign: Albania take on first official Italy encounter with some key absences

World Cup qualifying campaign: Albania take on first official Italy encounter with some key absences

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, March 13 – Albania will take on favourites Italy with some key defensive absences in their first ever official encounter as the Red & Blacks’ World Cup qualifying bid has received a severe blow following two

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Uta Ibrahimi undertakes challenge of becoming first Albanian woman to climb Everest

Uta Ibrahimi undertakes challenge of becoming first Albanian woman to climb Everest

TIRANA, March 10 – She has climbed the 4,880m Mount Blanc and reached the 5,925m Ramdug Peak in the Himalayas. Her next challenge is climbing Everest, the world’s highest peak of 8,848m and every climber’s lifetime dream. Her name is

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Former Albanian wrestling champion, successful businessman dies

Former Albanian wrestling champion, successful businessman dies

TIRANA, March 7 – Muhamet Malo, one of Albania’s most respected sportsmen, businessmen and philanthropists, has passed away at the age of 59  after a long battle with an incurable disease. Malo, a former wrestling champion and the owner of

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Izmir Smajlaj claims Albania’s first ever European indoor gold medal

Izmir Smajlaj claims Albania’s first ever European indoor gold medal

TIRANA, March 6 – Izmir Smajlaj was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships last weekend as he jumped 8.08 metres to break his own national record, beating Swedish favourite Michel Torneus. The gold medal, the first

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Albanian jumper crowned Balkan champion

Albanian jumper crowned Balkan champion

TIRANA, Feb. 27 – Albania’s Izmir Smajlaj has been crowned a Balkan long jump champion at a Belgrade event ahead of European Indoor Championships in Serbia. The 23-year Albanian athlete jumped 7.98 metres to claim gold for Albania at the

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Luiza Gega claims three medals ahead of European championship

Luiza Gega claims three medals ahead of European championship

TIRANA, Feb. 21 – Albania’s middle-distance runner Luiza Gega grabbed three medals in one week competing at the European Athletics Indoor Meetings in Paris, Ostrava and Istanbul, setting new national records and breaking her personal bests. The 28-year Albanian runner

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Partizani win derby to keep pace with leaders

Partizani win derby to keep pace with leaders

TIRANA, Feb. 21 – Italy-born Ghanaian striker Caleb Ekuban scored a winner for Partizani in the derby with Tirana, allowing the Reds to keep pace with leaders Kukesi and Skenderbeu and keep alive their  decades-long Superliga title hopes. It all

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Newly promoted Luftetari surprise as they rival for Superliga title

Newly promoted Luftetari surprise as they rival for Superliga title

TIRANA, Feb. 14 – Newly promoted Gjirokastra-based Luftetari are proving a real surprise in the Albanian Superliga this season as they currently rank fourth, leaving behind teams that have made history in Albanian football such as Tirana, Vllaznia and Teuta.

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 27 - Albania will play a home friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday evening after bidding adieu to its World Cup qualifying bid with a third straight loss against Italy.

The home test against one of the toughest Balkan sides is also seen as key for Gianni De Biasi and his future as Albania's coach after having led the national side for the past five years and managing to take it to a first ever major tournament such as Euro 2016.

Albania played well in last Friday’s qualifier with Italy but was punished by an early penalty for a needless foul and squandered several scoring opportunities before it conceded its second knockout goal. To make matters worse, the national side now faces the threat of a huge fine by the world football's governing body, FIFA, and play one or two matches behind closed doors after the Italy qualifier was suspended for several minutes as a group of Albanian fans threw flares on the pitch.

The Italy qualifier was seen as the last chance for Albania to remain in race for a top two finish and a possible play-off opportunity for Russia 2018, although mathematically Albania can still make it if they win all five remaining games.

Having played all five first round matches, Albania now see themselves rank fourth with only six points, trailing leaders Spain and Italy by seven points and lagging behind three points third-placed Israel, who now remain Albania's sole rival in their fight for a third place in group G of the World Cup qualifiers.

“Of course I feel bad because we lost to Italy and now our qualifying chances are zero," De Biasi told a Swiss newspaper.

"I think we played a tactically good game, the team performed well and surprised the opponents from the start. We made an individual mistake, and in my opinion, the referee quite generously awarded a penalty kick and this is when the match changed," De Biasi told a press conference upon arriving in Durres last weekend as Albania prepares for the Bosnia friendly.

The Italy encounter also produced some clashes within the national side with Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka announcing he will no longer join the national side as long as De Biasi is in charge. A regular starter in the past few years, the Basel player of Kosovo roots claims he has been given no explanation for not being included on the starting line-up and not used as a substitute by coach De Biasi.

Taulant Xhaka, 25, and his younger brother, Swiss international Granit Xhaka, made history at the Euro 2016 becoming the first brothers to face each other on different national sides at a European championship when Albania faced Switzerland at the opening group stage fixture.

Albania will play Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday, March 28 at the Elbasan Arena stadium. The two teams have faced each other four times with each national side having won once and drawn twice.

The Bosnia side travel to Albania after thrashing minnows Gibraltar 5-0 to keep their World Cup qualifying hopes alive as they trail leaders Belgium by 3 points in Group H.

Bosnia and Herzegovina who have been playing as a national side since 1992 after breaking up from former Yugoslavia made their major international debut at the 2014 World Cup. They currently rank 29th in the FIFA March ranking, up 25 spots compared to Albania who have lost considerable ground following three consecutive losses against Spain, Israel and Italy.

The Albanian national side will travel to Israel on June 11 and play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.
                    [post_title] => Albania to play Bosnia friendly after bidding adieu to World Cup qualifying bid
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131663" align="alignright" width="300"]latifi alla Skenderbeu's Latifi and Kukesi's Alla fight in an Albanian Superliga fixture[/caption]

TIRANA, March 23 - With some key absences due to booking and injury, coach Gianni De Biasi has called up four players from the Albanian Superliga and a Croatia League midfielder to compensate for some key defensive absences and some strikers that have been left out of the 23-men squad for the key Italy encounter and the Bosnia and Herzegovina friendly in the next few days.

Twenty-four year old defender Albi Alla who has been shining with the Albanian Superliga leaders Kukesi during this season has received his first international call with Albania who take on a decisive qualifier away to Italy on March 20 in their World Cup qualifying bid after a setback following two consecutive losses to Spain and Israel.

Partizani and Skenderbeu goalkeepers Alban Hoxha and Orges Shehi have also been called up for the next two matches to compensate for Etrit Berisha, the Atalanta and national side regular starter, who will be missing the next two matches after being sent off in last November's Israel qualifier.

Lokomotiva Zagreb’s Eros Grezda and Skenderbeu’s Liridon Latifi, both of whom Kosovo-born midfielders in their early 20s, have received their second call up with the national side.

Albania's Pisa attackers in Italy’s Serie B Edgar Çani and Rei Manaj have both been left out of the squad although Manaj seems back on track after scoring twice in the past couple of weeks with his new side. Shkelzen Gashi, who scored nine goals last season with his Colorado Rapids at the U.S. Major League and even claimed the league's 'Goal of the Year' award has also been left out again, although Jahmir Hyka recently joining the San Jose earthquakes in same league has been included in the 23-men squad.

Speaking about his four choices from the Albanian Superliga, coach De Biasi said the Albanian Superliga has become much tougher in the past five years since he took over Albania in late 2011.

“The Albanian championship has improved a lot since I have been here. There are some players we are closely watching, but there is not much space as there are many players in stronger leagues. I never get away my attention from the Albanian championship, especially this year when rivalry has increased,” he told reporters.

With ten more games to go, sixth straight consecutive Superliga champions and the 2015 UEFA Europa league Albania debutants Skenderbeu, are facing tough competition season this year as they trail leaders Kukes and Partizani by two points.

The long-awaited first official Italy encounter is considered a ‘local derby’ due to half a million Albanians living in Italy and the popularity the neighbouring country across the Adriatic enjoys in Albania, whose national side led by Italian coach Gianni De Biasi achieved a milestone with the first ever participation in a major competition such as the Euro 2016.

“I am so proud to be part of this nation. I will be so happy if we beat Italy even though I am Italian myself. I have come here to work seriously, doing this job with all my heart and we managed to achieve something extraordinary. I have been feeling Albanian for real,” said De Biasi, considered a hero in Albania and recently honored with an Italian presidential order of merit for promoting football and friendly relations between the two neighbouring countries.

The Italian coach admits it will be tough against the four-time World champions, but is still optimistic Albania can make a top two finish in a tough qualifying group stage that also features 2010 World Champions Spain.

“Playing against Italy is something motivating for everybody of us because we are playing against the four-time World champions. It will be tough for us even because of the fact that their players are in good shape and play and score regularly,” De Biasi told reporters.

Defender Mergim Mavraj who joined Hamburger in the German Bundesliga last January will be a key absence for coach De Biasi and Albania who have been suffering consecutive defensive problems after their Euro 2016 debut and the departure of long-serving captain Lorik Cana from international and club football.

Goalkeeper Etrit Berisha and defender Berat Xhimshiti, both of whom sent off last November in the home qualifier with Israel, which 9-men Albania lost 0-3, will also be key absences for De Biasi although the goalkeeper issue seems already settled with another substitute from Italy’s Serie A. Twenty-one-year-old Thomas Strakosha who has been shining as a regular starter with Lazio in the past few weeks seems a perfect substitute for veteran goalkeeper Berisha, who has also been in perfect shape helping his new Atalanta side play one of their best seasons since joining last January on loan from Lazio.

“It is not difficult motivating the team against reputable opponents. For me, it is more difficult arranging a game against an unknown team. I know Italy quite well and it is quite normal we have to do our best to handle a very tough match like this one,” said De Biasi.

Leading Albania for the past five years, De Biasi got a surprise away Euro 2016 qualifying victory with Portugal and stunned Euro 2016 hosts France in a friendly, finishing second in a tough qualifying campaign that also featured Denmark and Serbia.

Commenting on alleged euphoria following the historic first ever participation in a European championship, De Biasi said, “after two losses against Spain and Israel, the euphoria has normally faded away. We now have to be careful to avoid repeating such situations because our strength stands in being a united group and mobilizing better on the pitch.”

The national side earlier beat Macedonia 2-1 and won 2-0 against modest Liechtenstein in the first two qualifiers before the Spain and Israel losses.

Keeping optimism alive in the team, De Biasi, who has often been roumoured of taking over a new national side or club, said a runner-up group finish is still possible.

"De Biasi's objective is finishing second in the qualifiers as the first spot is quite difficult. I have shown I am a man of word and have even given up important contracts to take this team to the European championship,” he said.

Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj who has been on the watch by several big teams following his impressive games in Serie A and the Champions League in the past two seasons provides some guarantee for De Biasi along with new captain Andi Lila who plays in the Greek top league.

About a dozen Albanian players in Italy’s Serie A and B where Napoli 22-year-old fullback Elseid Hysaj is the most sought-after Albanian international.

The midfield seems tougher with Pescara’s Ledian Memushaj and Basel’s Taulant Xhaka having been regular starters with their Italian and Swiss teams and Jahmir Hyka recently joining the San Jose earthquakes in the U.S. Major League Soccer.

[caption id="attachment_130612" align="alignright" width="300"]sadiku 1 Sadiku scores Albania's sole goal against Romania in the Euro 2016 group stage[/caption]

Albania now also has more offensive options with striker Armando Sadiku scoring five goals with his new Lugano team in the top Swiss league following an injury that saw him missing the last two Spain and Israel qualifiers. Having scored seven goals with the national side, including one in the first-ever European championship appearance against Romania at the Euro 2016, Sadiku has been a reference point in Albania’s attack in the past couple of years.

Strikers playing in the Russian, Turkish and Kazakhstan championships such as Bekim Balaj, Sokol Cikalleshi and Azdren Llullaku are the three other attacking alternatives for De Biasi who will likely use Sadiku as a sole starting forward for the Italy encounter.

With six other qualifiers to go, Albania now see themselves fourth with 6 points, trailing Israel by 3 points and group leaders Spain and Italy by four points.

Although mathematically Albania can still remain hopeful for a miracle second place which would award them a play-off opportunity, their qualifying bid looks like a mission impossible now as former World Champions Italy and Spain seem unrivaled in the fight for the group’s first two places.

 

Italians confident

[caption id="attachment_131660" align="alignright" width="300"]Italian coach Gian Piero Ventura  Italian coach Gian Piero Ventura[/caption]

The four-time World Cup winners who rival Spain for a top finish and direct qualification for Russia 2018  are confident they will make it with Albania although it will not be easy and that is why they have selected Palermo, a southern Italy region where it enjoys its strongest support and has almost always triumphed.

“Albania and Israel are two key matches and that's why we need the fans' support. Italy has never disappointed in Palermo.  We are preparing for this match with clarity. A new generational change has been initiated and this can take us further than imagined if we develop this group of players. Italy is Italy, when in difficulty it has always shown it ready to unveil what wearing the Azzurri shirt means. A new group of young players is emerging," Italian coach Gian Piero Ventura has said, pointing out emerging talents such as Belotti and Immobile.

"The result is extremely important against Albania. We know that it will be a crucial fixture, as it could also influence how we perceive the match in Spain. I am calm because after three months I have came across a group of players who are willing to give me everything," Ventura has told a press conference.

The Italian football association says the Azzurri have a very positive record in Palermo, only one draw and a loss out of 13 games played, having won all the last five consecutive games.

“For Italy this encounter will mean another record to defend, as during World Cup qualifying they are still unbeaten at home. In 50 matches played from 1934 to 2013 on home soil, they have recorded 43 victories and seven draws,” says the Italian association.

The two national sides will play in Palermo, southern Italy, on March 24 in the second encounter after a previous 2014 friendly in Genoa which Italy narrowly won 1-0.

Four days later, Albania will play a home friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 28 at the Elbasan Arena stadium following the end of the first round of the World Cup qualifying campaign before travelling to Israel next June in a new tough qualifier.

The national side will travel to Israel on June 11 and play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

debiasiTIRANA, March 13 - Albania will take on favourites Italy with some key defensive absences in their first ever official encounter as the Red & Blacks’ World Cup qualifying bid has received a severe blow following two consecutive losses against Spain and Israel in late 2016.

Due to booking and injury, goalkeeper Etrit Berisha and defenders Mergin Mavraj and Berat Gjimshiti will be missing in the long-awaited Italy encounter, considered a 'local derby' due to half a million Albanians living in Italy and the popularity the neighbouring country across the Adriatic enjoys in Albania, whose national side led by Italian coach Gianni De Biasi achieved a milestone with the first ever participation in a major competition such as the Euro 2016.

Defender Mergim Mavraj who joined Hamburger in the German Bundesliga last January will be a key absence for coach De Biasi and Albania who have been suffering consecutive defensive problems after their Euro 2016 debut and the departure of long-serving captain Lorik Cana from international and club football.

The 30-year Germany-born Albanian defender of Kosovo roots picked an injury in early March following some impressive performances with his new Bundesliga side, with the ruptured tendon believed to keep him off the pitch for several weeks, including the key qualifier with Italy.

Mavraj, who has been playing with the national side since 2010, moved to Hamburger from Cologne on a two-and-a-half-year deal for a €1.8 million fee in a surprise move as the defender was playing one of his best seasons, having made it to the surprise Bundesliga team after an injury that kept him off the pitch for 20 games last season.

Goalkeeper Etrit Berisha and defender Berat Xhimshiti, both of whom sent off last November in the home qualifier with Israel, which 9-men Albania lost 0-3, will also be key absences for De Biasi although the goalkeeper issue seems already settled with another substitute from Italy’s Serie A.

Twenty-one-year-old Thomas Strakosha who has been shining as a regular starter with Lazio in the past few weeks seems a perfect substitute for veteran goalkeeper Berisha, who has also been in perfect shape helping his new Atalanta side play one of their best seasons since joining last January on loan from Lazio.

Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj who has been on the watch by several big teams following his impressive games in Serie A and the Champions League in the past two seasons provides some guarantee for De Biasi along with new captain Andi Lila who plays in the Greek top league.

Kaiserslautern defender in the German second division Naser Aliji, the only Macedonia-born Albanian who plays for the national side is another option that De Biasi could also consider along with Rennes’ Ermir Lenjani and Torino's Arlind Ajeti, both of whom not first choices with their respective teams in the top French and Italian leagues.

 

Attack gains momentum

The midfield seems tougher with Pescara's Ledian Memushaj and Basel's Taulant Xhaka having been regular starters with their Italian and Swiss teams and Jahmir Hyka recently joining the San Jose earthquakes in the U.S. Major League Soccer where he will rival compatriot striker Shkelzen Gashi in the 2017 season.

Albania now also has more offensive options with striker Armando Sadiku scoring five goals in five games with his new Lugano team in the top Swiss league following an injury that saw him missing the last two Spain and Israel qualifiers. Having scored seven goals with the national side, including one in the first-ever European championship appearance against Romania at the Euro 2016, Sadiku has been a reference point in Albania’s attack in the past couple of years.

Strikers playing in the Russian, Turkish and Italian championships such as Bekim Balaj, Sokol Cikalleshi and Rey Manaj are some other options for De Biasi in the Italy encounter where he will likely use a sole forward.

Coach De Biasi says Albania faces a tough challenges and admits his Italian counterpart Giampiero Ventura has higher quality at his disposal.

"We are approaching this match with lots of emotion. Unfortunately, I see Ventura who has a championship producing some high-level players such as Belotti, Immobile and Candreva, just to mention a few in the offensive sector, at a time when I have to deal with a lot of absences,” De Biasi has told Italian media.

"I have problems with the goalkeeper and the two central defenders who been regular starters recently. We face some difficulties, but I am sure we will play our chances," adds De Biasi, recently honored with an Italian presidential order of merit for promoting football and friendly relations between the two neighbouring countries.

About a dozen Albanian players in Italy's Serie A and B where Napoli 22-year-old fullback Elseid Hysaj is the most sought-after Albanian international.

 

An almost mission impossible

After its historic direct qualification for the Euro 2016 and failing to make it as the third-best team at the knockout stage only on goal difference, Albania and coach De Biasi have been facing some tough times in their Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying bid.

Albania’s hopes for a third place and a possible play-off opportunity in the World Cup qualifiers received a severe blow in late 2016 following losses to Spain and Israel in the last two qualifiers. The national side earlier beat Macedonia 2-1 and won 2-0 against modest Liechtenstein in the first two qualifiers.

With six other qualifiers to go, Albania now see themselves fourth with 6 points, trailing Israel by 3 points and group leaders Spain and Italy by four points.

Although mathematically Albania can still remain hopeful for a miracle second place which would award them a play-off opportunity, their qualifying bid looks like a mission impossible now as former World Champions Italy and Spain seem unrivaled in the fight for the group’s first two places.

The Red & Blacks will travel to Italy on March 24 to conclude the first round of group matches for the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers in a historic fixture that sees the two national sides face each other for the first time in an official competition.

The two national sides will play in Palermo, southern Italy, in the second encounter after a previous 2014 friendly in Genoa which Italy narrowly won 1-0.

Italy currently rank second in Group G of the qualifiers with 10 points on poorer goal difference compared to leaders Spain.

Albania will play a home friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 28 at the Elbasan Arena stadium following the end of the first round of the World Cup qualifying campaign before travelling to Israel next June in a new tough qualifier.

The national side will travel to Israel on June 11 and play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131563" align="alignright" width="300"]uta 2 Uta Ibrahimi[/caption]

TIRANA, March 10 - She has climbed the 4,880m Mount Blanc and reached the 5,925m Ramdug Peak in the Himalayas. Her next challenge is climbing Everest, the world's highest peak of 8,848m and every climber's lifetime dream.

Her name is Uta Ibrahimi, a Kosovo-Albanian who has been picked as the first Albanian woman to undertake this tough challenge due to having the required physical and psychological condition. The announcement was made by the Tirana-based Dajti Alpine-Tourist Association on March 8, the International Women's Day, as part of the 'Albanian Woman in Everest' project that is expected to conclude next November when Albania marks its 105th anniversary of independence.

The challenge comes five years after a team of Albanian climbers of the Dajti Alpine-Tourist Association led by Xhimi Begeja became the first to raise the national flag on the summit of Mount Everest.

"My several years of experience in mountain climbing, continuous physical training, maturity and self-confidence, support by the pan-Albanian climbers, has made me more courageous to undertake this tough challenge carrying lots of risks," says 33-year-old Uta Ibrahimi, a marketer and climber based in Prishtina, the Kosovo capital city, where she runs an outdoor adventure travel agency.

"I feel honored and privileged that I was picked by the Dajti Alpine-Tourist Association and the Begeja family to represent Albanian women in the world's highest peak. I will do my best, and with Xhimi's support who has guided me in every detail, I hope this commitment will pay us all off, by flying our nation's flag on the roof of the world," added Ibrahimi.

Xhimi Begeja, who in 2012 on Albania’s centenary of independence, managed to climb the Everest together with his then-19-year old son Mateo, is convinced Uta's courage and desire for new challenges will pay off despite ever-present risks in the climb to the world’s highest peak claiming lives each year.

Some 500 women have climbed Everest so far since 1975 with Japan's Tamae Watanabe, aged 73 in 2012, becoming the oldest women atop Everest.

In a photo exhibition a year after the historic climb of the Albanian team, climber Fatjon Plaku, recalled that the same as climbing the Everest, taking pictures on the way to the Everest summit was very dangerous. “One of our team mates nearly lost his hand because of wanting to take some more pictures,” he said.

Back in 2012, Xhimi Begeja and his son Mateo, politician Gjergj Bojaxhi were among the team of six Albanian climbers who made it to the Everest summit assisted by Sherpas, having previously climbed the Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro summits before deciding to take the risk of climbing the world’s highest peak at 8,848 metres above the sea level located in the Himalayas on the Nepal-China (Tibet) border.

 
                    [post_title] => Uta Ibrahimi undertakes challenge of becoming first Albanian woman to climb Everest 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-03-07 12:29:39
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 7 - Muhamet Malo, one of Albania's most respected sportsmen, businessmen and philanthropists, has passed away at the age of 59  after a long battle with an incurable disease.

Malo, a former wrestling champion and the owner of several successful businesses including Albania's sole cable car linking Tirana to Mount Dajti and one of the country’s biggest sports betting companies, was also devoted to charity work, having received international recognition for it.

Muhamet Malo has been in charge of the Albanian wrestling several times since the early 1990s when he quit wrestling to dedicate his life to sports and business, also founding the country's sole sports TV.

Back in 2016, Malo received an award by former U.S. president Barack Obama for his lifelong commitment to building a stronger nation through volunteer service.

He was a peace missionary and honorary ambassador of the Tirana-based Diplomatic Mission Peace and Prosperity lobby organization and had been given the Doctor Honoris Causa of leadership in sports and management.

Malo had also received an Albanian presidential award for special civil merits in his contribution to promoting Albanian tourism through the cable car investment and financially supporting sports and cultural events both locally and internationally.

Viron Bezhani, a former wrestler who heads the Albanian National Olympic Committee, described Malo's premature death as a big loss for Albanian sports, especially wrestling.

"Albanian sports and especially wrestling will miss a champion, a president, and a supporter who always stood by this sport," said Bezhani

Malo, born in Tirana but with roots in Kolonja, southeastern Albania, is survived by his wife and four children.
                    [post_title] => Former Albanian wrestling champion, successful businessman dies
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131476" align="alignright" width="300"]smajl 2 Izmir Smajlaj[/caption]

TIRANA, March 6 - Izmir Smajlaj was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships last weekend as he jumped 8.08 metres to break his own national record, beating Swedish favourite Michel Torneus.

The gold medal, the first ever for Albania at a European indoor event, came one week after the 23-year-old champion claimed gold for Albania at the Balkan Indoor, a test event for Belgrade’s European Indoor Championships.

"What a last jump it proved to be as Smajlaj, who was ninth at last year's European Championships in Amsterdam, amazingly reached 8.08m, the same as Torneus, to break his own national record of 7.98m," wrote the European Athletics portal about Smajlaj who came first thanks to fewer fouls compared to Sweden’s Torneus.

Speaking to reporters after the victory, Smajlaj said the gold medal was a dream come true for him.

"It was a very tough race, but I finally made it. I wouldn't call it a surprise as my goal was to be crowned champion. I have new targets for other medals at the London World Championships," said Smajlaj.

The Albanian athlete was applauded by fans at the Belgrade stadium but received criticism by some Serbian media for his crossed hands gesture symbolizing the double-headed eagle of Albania's flag, sometimes also alluded to a Greater Albania symbol in the Balkan region.

"To be sincere, I had predicted to make the eagle sign if I was crowned champion. I would still like to give my thanks to the Belgrade people who received me so well," said Smajlaj.

In October 2014, a drone with Albanian nationalistic and patriotic symbols flying over the Partizan stadium in Belgrade in the midst of a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier put Albania-Serbia relations into a Cold War status quo, but the situation was quickly overcome with high level visits and exchanges by civil society organizations.

Meanwhile, Albania’s middle-distance runner Luiza Gega finished fifth in the women's 1,500 metres after claiming three medals ahead of the Belgrade European championships.

The 28-year-old Albanian middle-distance runner, the only Albanian athlete to directly qualify in the 2016 Rio Olympics, is best at 3,000 m steeplechase, having finished second at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Both Smajlaj and Gega will now train for next August's World Athletics Championships in London where competition will be much tougher.

Athletics is emerging as a new success in Albania where weightlifting and wrestling have been the traditional best performing Olympic disciplines, but poor financial support to athletes and improper training infrastructure remain a huge barrier.
                    [post_title] => Izmir Smajlaj claims Albania’s first ever European indoor gold medal 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131368" align="alignright" width="225"]Izmir Smajlaj Izmir Smajlaj[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 27 - Albania's Izmir Smajlaj has been crowned a Balkan long jump champion at a Belgrade event ahead of European Indoor Championships in Serbia. The 23-year Albanian athlete jumped 7.98 metres to claim gold for Albania at the Balkan Indoor, a test event for Belgrade's early March European Indoor Championships.

The promising athlete who last year also represented Albania at the Rio Olympics is optimistic the result that set a new national record is a good omen for a top three finish at the European games this weekend.

"A 7.98 m jump at the Balkan championship is a very promising result. I believe I can make it to the top three with an 8 m jump considering my physical condition and shape," Smajlaj told reporters upon arriving in his native town of Shkodra, northern Albania at weekend.

Smajlaj, who jumped 16 cm to 45 cm longer compared to his Romanian and Greek rivals finishing second and third respectively, with face much tougher competition at European level, apparently from Swedish and British athletes dominating long jump races in the past few years.

The Albanian athlete said his victory was well-received in Belgrade, something which he didn't expect following a previous incident in a football match back in late 2014.

"I want to thank all the Belgrade people for their hospitality. At the time the Albanian flag was raised, everybody stood up, applauding. I didn't really expect this, but it happened,” Smajlaj said.

"I didn't expect to win. I faced tough opponents but was in good physical condition and really hopeful of winning. In addition, I was in Belgrade and it was my dream to fly the Albanian flag there and this encouraged me more,” he added.

In October 2014, a drone with Albanian nationalistic and patriotic symbols flying over the Partizan stadium in Belgrade in the midst of a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier put Albania-Serbia relations into a Cold War status quo, but the situation was quickly overcome with high level visits and exchanges by civil society organizations. At a forum on Albania-Serbia relations organized last December by the Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS), one of the country's top think tanks, diplomats and business representatives described 2016 as the best year of cooperation between the two countries in the past seven decades.

A biennial indoor track and field competition, the 2017 European Athletics Indoor Championships will be held in Belgrade from March 3 to 5.

Albania’s middle-distance runner Luiza Gega is also set to make a good performance at the Games after grabbing three medals in one week competing at the European Athletics Indoor Meetings in Paris, Ostrava and Istanbul.

Running is emerging as a new success in Albania where weightlifting and wrestling have been the traditional best performing Olympic disciplines, however, poor financial support to athletes and improper training infrastructure remain a huge barrier.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131268" align="alignright" width="300"]Luiza Gega Luiza Gega[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 21 - Albania's middle-distance runner Luiza Gega grabbed three medals in one week competing at the European Athletics Indoor Meetings in Paris, Ostrava and Istanbul, setting new national records and breaking her personal bests.

The 28-year Albanian runner finished third at the women's 3,000 meters in Paris on Feb. 10, before winning silver in the Czech Indoor Gala in 1,500 meters on Feb. 14 and claiming gold at the Istanbul Athletics Cup three days later with a national record and personal best of 4:06.66 in the women's 1,500 meters.

"Gega’s run in Turkey moves her up to fourth on the 2017 European indoor rankings and suggests she’ll be in the mix for the medals at the forthcoming European Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade, which will be held in the Serbian capital from 3-5 March," wrote Switzerland-based European Athletics Association on its portal.

Gega, who was the only Albanian athlete to directly qualify in the 2016 Rio Olympics, was unlucky in the women's 3,000m steeplechase last summer due to a last minute injury.

She had previously finished second in the women’s 3000m steeplechase at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam ahead of the Rio Olympics and claimed gold in the Women’s 1500 meters in the Baku 2015 European Games.

Gega, who has been training in Kenya recently, says her good shape has changed her plans about the participation in the Belgrade European Championship.

"While in Kenya, we decided not to participate in the European championship, but considering my shape in the past week, the coach and I made a last-minute decision to attend," Gega told reporters upon arriving in Tirana.

Coach Taulant Stermasi is optimistic saying "Luiza is always among Europe's top five in the 1,500m and 3,000m and unbeatable in the 3,000m steeplechase."

Running is emerging as a new success in Albania where weightlifting and wrestling have been the traditional best performing Olympic disciplines.

Financial support for sports other than football where Albania achieved a historic milestone with its first-ever participation in the latest European championship in France, is really modest, which has led a considerable number of Albanian athletes to switch to other national sides.

Three former Albanian athletes represented the United States, Australia and Bulgaria in the Rio 2016 Olympics where Albania participated with a reduced number of athletes.
                    [post_title] => Luiza Gega claims three medals ahead of European championship
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131264" align="alignright" width="300"]Beqja scores an equalizer for Tirana  Teqja scores an equalizer for Tirana[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 21 - Italy-born Ghanaian striker Caleb Ekuban scored a winner for Partizani in the derby with Tirana, allowing the Reds to keep pace with leaders Kukesi and Skenderbeu and keep alive their  decades-long Superliga title hopes.

It all started well for Partizani after an early goal by defender Renato Malota, who scored a header contested as offside by Tirana.

Tirana responded at the beginning of the second half with an equalizer by defender Osli Teqja.

Caleb Ekuban scored another decisive goal in the 70th minute to give Partizani a much-needed win and trail leaders Kukesi by four points with 14 other games to go. Ekuban, who joined Partizani only this season on loan from Italy’s Chievo Verona, has scored 10 goals with Partizani so far, only three fewer than top scorer Pero Pejic, the Croatian Kukes striker.

Once the most successful club under communism, Partizani have been trophilesss in the Albanian top league since the early 1990s, but are favourites to win this year's title after finishing second last season.

The Reds made a historic comeback to European club football last summer replacing Skenderbeu in the Champions League qualifying campaign after the Albanian champions were banned from European competition for 1 year over match fixing allegations.

The derby went quite smooth with no incidents also due to the fact that Tirana's fiercest fans boycotted the game.

Tirana, who haven’t won a Superliga title since 2009, have been recently facing problems with its "Tirona Fanatics" supporters who have not appeared in stadium in the past few games following a club decision to allow arch-rivals Partizani play their home matches in their 'Selman Stermasi' stadium.

"It was not a response toward Kukes and Skenderbeu, but to our own progress. No doubt the derby produces tension. We had a different challenge for this match, Tirana had simply mobilized for the derby's importance, while we were also under pressure for a win," said Partizani coach Sulejman Starova.

"We were not brilliant, but we triumphed against an opponent that was a lot calmer than us. We had opportunities to double and took the game under control after the draw and could have even scored a third goal," he added.

Tirana's coach Mirel Josa said he was dissatisfied with the team's performance and their fourth consecutive defeat in the Superliga's second half.

"I was not satisfied with the performance, especially in the second half and the way we conceived the goals. We have been facing four consecutive defeats and we are not going through a good moment, but I don't feel under pressure. We will now think about the next match," said Josa who took over as Tirana's coach last November when the country's most successful club was facing tough times.

In a statement, the club blamed the loss on the referee who they said allowed an offside goal for Partizani, denied Tirana a penalty kick and constantly ruled against Tirana.

Northeastern Albania based Kukes seem on track for a Superliga title this season in their fifth attempt to make it after playing in the Superliga for only the past six years and finishing second four times.

Sixth straight champions Skenderbeu have also gained ground, trailing Kukes by only 2 points.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131139" align="alignright" width="300"]milinkovic Luftetari's Serbian coach Mladen Milinkovic[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 14 - Newly promoted Gjirokastra-based Luftetari are proving a real surprise in the Albanian Superliga this season as they currently rank fourth, leaving behind teams that have made history in Albanian football such as Tirana, Vllaznia and Teuta.

Luftetari beat title favourites Partizani 2-0, narrowly lost 2-1 away to Flamurtari and recently got an easy win against bottom-placed Korabi in the first three fixtures of the season's second half following the winter break.

The southern club with little history in Albania's top league dedicates its success to Serbian coach Mladen Milinkovic and its emerging players including Albania's Dejvi Bregu and Mozambique striker Reginaldo who have scored five goals each this season.

The Serbian coach says being in the top fight of Albanian football continues to remain their key goal.

"Only when we have collected 36 to 37 points, we can think of another target. For the moment we are only thinking about the season start objective of remaining in the Superliga," Milinkovic has told reporters.

The top three teams and the Albanian Cup winner play in European cups while the bottom two are demoted to the First Division.

"In football it is difficult to maintain a good shape for a long time and we should not forget that players can have different performances in different matches," adds the coach.

Arjan Bellaj, a former Albanian international who grew up as a player with Luftetari, says the Serbian coach has a huge contribution to Luftetari's success.

“The coach gets 100 percent from the players either when training or playing. He managed to single out the qualities of Bregu, Abazaj and Reginaldo, which is the trio every Albanian team would like to have," he has said.

Luftetari, who currently have 28 points, 11 points behind third-placed Partizani and tailing leaders Kukes by 17 points, face a difficult encounter next Sunday on Oct. 19, when they travel away to six-times consecutive champions Skenderbeu who desperately need a win to narrow Kukesi's four-point lead.

Northeastern Albania based Kukes seem on track for a Superliga title this season in their fifth attempt to make it after playing in the Superliga for only the past six years and finishing second four times. Their Croatian striker Pero Pejic is the Superliga top scorer with 13 goals followed by Partizani's Italian-born Ghanaian striker Caleb Ekuban with nine goals and former Albanian international, Skenderbeu striker Hamdi Salihi with 8 goals.

The 22th week of the 10-team Albanian Superliga will also feature on Feb. 20 the Partizani-Tirana derby, a much-awaited fixture by fans, often marred by incidents and violence in the past few seasons.

Albanian football has reached milestones in the past few years with the national side’s Euro 2016 debut and Skenderbeu becoming the first Albanian club to make it to the Europa League group stage in 2015.

 

 

 
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, March 27 - Albania will play a home friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday evening after bidding adieu to its World Cup qualifying bid with a third straight loss against Italy.

The home test against one of the toughest Balkan sides is also seen as key for Gianni De Biasi and his future as Albania's coach after having led the national side for the past five years and managing to take it to a first ever major tournament such as Euro 2016.

Albania played well in last Friday’s qualifier with Italy but was punished by an early penalty for a needless foul and squandered several scoring opportunities before it conceded its second knockout goal. To make matters worse, the national side now faces the threat of a huge fine by the world football's governing body, FIFA, and play one or two matches behind closed doors after the Italy qualifier was suspended for several minutes as a group of Albanian fans threw flares on the pitch.

The Italy qualifier was seen as the last chance for Albania to remain in race for a top two finish and a possible play-off opportunity for Russia 2018, although mathematically Albania can still make it if they win all five remaining games.

Having played all five first round matches, Albania now see themselves rank fourth with only six points, trailing leaders Spain and Italy by seven points and lagging behind three points third-placed Israel, who now remain Albania's sole rival in their fight for a third place in group G of the World Cup qualifiers.

“Of course I feel bad because we lost to Italy and now our qualifying chances are zero," De Biasi told a Swiss newspaper.

"I think we played a tactically good game, the team performed well and surprised the opponents from the start. We made an individual mistake, and in my opinion, the referee quite generously awarded a penalty kick and this is when the match changed," De Biasi told a press conference upon arriving in Durres last weekend as Albania prepares for the Bosnia friendly.

The Italy encounter also produced some clashes within the national side with Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka announcing he will no longer join the national side as long as De Biasi is in charge. A regular starter in the past few years, the Basel player of Kosovo roots claims he has been given no explanation for not being included on the starting line-up and not used as a substitute by coach De Biasi.

Taulant Xhaka, 25, and his younger brother, Swiss international Granit Xhaka, made history at the Euro 2016 becoming the first brothers to face each other on different national sides at a European championship when Albania faced Switzerland at the opening group stage fixture.

Albania will play Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday, March 28 at the Elbasan Arena stadium. The two teams have faced each other four times with each national side having won once and drawn twice.

The Bosnia side travel to Albania after thrashing minnows Gibraltar 5-0 to keep their World Cup qualifying hopes alive as they trail leaders Belgium by 3 points in Group H.

Bosnia and Herzegovina who have been playing as a national side since 1992 after breaking up from former Yugoslavia made their major international debut at the 2014 World Cup. They currently rank 29th in the FIFA March ranking, up 25 spots compared to Albania who have lost considerable ground following three consecutive losses against Spain, Israel and Italy.

The Albanian national side will travel to Israel on June 11 and play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.
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            [post_mime_type] => 
            [comment_count] => 0
            [filter] => raw
        )

    [queried_object] => stdClass Object
        (
            [term_id] => 33
            [name] => Sport
            [slug] => sport
            [term_group] => 0
            [term_taxonomy_id] => 33
            [taxonomy] => category
            [description] => 
            [parent] => 0
            [count] => 219
            [filter] => raw
            [cat_ID] => 33
            [category_count] => 219
            [category_description] => 
            [cat_name] => Sport
            [category_nicename] => sport
            [category_parent] => 0
        )

    [queried_object_id] => 33
    [post__not_in] => Array
        (
        )

)