Skenderbeu stripped of championship title over match-fixing

Skenderbeu stripped of championship title over match-fixing

TIRANA, June 26 – Albania’s KF Skenderbeu have been stripped of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The decision handed last weekend by the Ethics Commission of the Albanian Football Association

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Albania look for Italian successor to De Biasi

Albania look for Italian successor to De Biasi

TIRANA, June 21 – Albania is looking for another Italian coach after the surprise resignation of Gianni De Biasi in the midst of the World Cup qualifying campaign few days ago. Football Association President Armand Duka has said he would

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Albanian clubs learn Champions, Europa League qualifying campaign opponents

Albanian clubs learn Champions, Europa League qualifying campaign opponents

TIRANA, June 19 – Albania’s newly crowned Superliga champions Kukes have been drawn against Moldova’s Sheriff in the second qualifying round of the 2017-2018 Champions League campaign. The Albanian champions making their debut in the toughest European club competition will

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Italian De Biasi unexpectedly resigns as Albania coach

Italian De Biasi unexpectedly resigns as Albania coach

TIRANA, June 14 – Gianni De Biasi has officially resigned as Albania coach in an unexpected decision after he earlier announced he would be leaving Albania by next October at the end of the World Cup qualification campaign when his

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De Biasi to quit as Albania coach next October

De Biasi to quit as Albania coach next October

TIRANA, June 13 – Italian Gianni De Biasi says he will quit as Albania’s coach next October when Albania closes its World Cup qualification campaign with two tough fixtures against group leaders Spain and Italy. The announcement came on Tuesday

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World Cup campaign: Albania avenge Israel with stunning 3-0 away victory

World Cup campaign: Albania avenge Israel with stunning 3-0 away victory

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, June 12 – Albania avenged Israel with an unexpected 3-0 away victory, ending a five-game losing streak and climbing to third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers for the Russia 2018. Lugano striker Armando

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Albania face Israel as shameful Luxembourg defeat extends losing streak to five

Albania face Israel as shameful Luxembourg defeat extends losing streak to five

TIRANA, June 5 – Modest Luxembourg came from behind to beat Albania 2-1 in a friendly ahead of a key World Cup qualifier with Israel, making Albania suffer its fifth consecutive loss since last October, in the longest losing streak

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No celebration as newly relegated Tirana claim Albania Cup

No celebration as newly relegated Tirana claim Albania Cup

TIRANA, June 1 – An extra time double by Congolese striker Merveil earned Tirana the Albanian Cup trophy and a ticket to the UEFA Europa League qualification campaign in an irony of fate encounter with Skenderbeu after the country’s most successful

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Albania’s most successful club relegated after a century in top flight

Albania’s most successful club relegated after a century in top flight

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, May 29 – Albania’s historically most successful club, FK Tirana, have been relegated after almost a century in the top flight of Albania’s national football, irritating dozens of thousands of fans and club legends over the

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World Cup campaign: Albania seeks to avenge Israel in fight for third place finish

World Cup campaign: Albania seeks to avenge Israel in fight for third place finish

TIRANA, May 23 – Albania will play a friendly against modest Luxembourg on June 4 ahead of a key World Cup qualifier against Israel a week later in a bid to overcome one of its worst losing streaks in more

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 26 - Albania's KF Skenderbeu have been stripped of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The decision handed last weekend by the Ethics Commission of the Albanian Football Association came as part of a UEFA probe into Skenderbeu over match fixing allegations at European and domestic competitions.

In addition to stripping the club who has been dominating Albanian football in the past decade of one championship title, the Ethics Committee also handed Skenderbeu a 2 million lek (€15,000) fine and deducted 12 points from their 2016-2017 Superliga campaign with no effect for their third-place and Europa League participation this year due to their huge advantage over fourth-placed Luftetari.

Skenderbeu also faced the threat of being relegated, but the Ethics Committee argued such punishment had not been handed by UEFA itself.

Last year, Europe's football governing body, UEFA, banned Skenderbeu for one year from European competition on match-fixing allegations in their 2015-2016 Europa League campaign when they became the first ever Albanian club to make it to the group stage of a major European competition. The decision was also upheld by Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport after an appeal filed by Skenderbeu.

UEFA welcomed the decision saying “the case affirms the reliability of UEFA’s betting fraud detection system in identifying abnormal betting patterns on matches played by the Albanian club at European and domestic levels.”

The UEFA probe came after Brussels-based Federbet gaming anti-corruption organization, cast match-fixing doubts on several of Skenderbeu fixtures, including the UEFA Champions League qualifying round with Northern Ireland’s Crusaders and UEFA group stage matches with Lokomotiv Moscow, Dinamo Zagreb and Sporting Lisbon. Skenderbeu was also suspected of having fixed several domestic matches, which apparently led to their latest punishment by the Albanian Football Association.

Reacting to the ruling, Skenderbeu described the punishment as unprecedented and not based on evidence, warning that they would initiate an appeal with Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"Skenderbeu assures fans that this infringement and threat made by the Ethics Committee, especially by stripping us of a championship title which UEFA itself considered well-deserved, will be fully appealed as we are confident in our incontrovertible innocence," the club said in a statement.

In the upcoming UEFA Europa league campaign, Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club that had been seeded in the draw thanks to their Europa League participation in 2015-16.

Skenderbeu, whose six-year domination of Albanian football came to an end only this year when they finished third, will face an easy test against Andorra’s Sant Julia in the first qualifying round.

The Snow Wolves will play their first-leg match on June 29 before traveling to Andorra on July 6, in what is expected to be an easy first round qualification.

Partizani, who finished second in the past two seasons, are now hopeful they will be crowned champions by another Football Association decision following more than two decades of trophyless seasons.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 21 - Albania is looking for another Italian coach after the surprise resignation of Gianni De Biasi in the midst of the World Cup qualifying campaign few days ago.

Football Association President Armand Duka has said he would personally prefer an Italian coach as a successor to De Biasi, the most successful coach who led Albania for the past five and a half years, making history with the country’s first ever appearance at a major tournament such as Euro 2016.

De Biasi's former assistant Paolo Tramezzani is no longer an alternative after the Italian signed a contract with Switzerland's Sion soon after De Biasi’s departure. The 46-year-old coach who was De Biasi's key aide for five years until January 2017 led Swiss side Lugano to a surprise direct Europa League qualification this year as the team faced the relation threat when he took over. He was considered a perfect replacement for De Biasi given his experience and familiarity with the national side.

While no new names have been rumored in Albania, Italian media have unveiled the football association is negotiating with Giancarlo Camolese, another Italian coach who led several Italian clubs including Torino.

Sky Sport Italia reports the 56-year coach has been contacted by Albanian football association officials to discuss terms and strategy.

Albania has been led by several foreign managers for the past 15 years with De Biasi being the longest serving. The football association says it will not exclude the option of an Albanian coach.

Italian Gianni De Biasi unexpectedly quit as Albania coach on June 14, only a day after he first announced he would be leaving Albania by next October at the end of the World Cup qualification campaign when his contract expired.

The decision came at a time when Albania made a turning point with a 3-0 away victory with Israel after a shameful five-game losing streak the national side had not experienced in more than a decade.

Albania avenged Israel with an unexpected 3-0 away victory on June 11, climbing to third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers for the Russia 2018.

The away victory temporary places Albania third with 9 points, leading Israel on goal difference in a tough group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain who seem unrivalled in the top two finish.

The Albanian national side will play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing neighbouring Macedonia three days later in an away qualifier. 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_132893" align="alignright" width="300"]ze maria Newly relegated Tirana have hired Brazilian De Maria as their coach[/caption]

TIRANA, June 19 - Albania's newly crowned Superliga champions Kukes have been drawn against Moldova's Sheriff in the second qualifying round of the 2017-2018 Champions League campaign.

The Albanian champions making their debut in the toughest European club competition will face a difficult challenge against Sheriff, the club who has dominated Moldovan football in the past 16 years.

Kukes have regularly played in the less prestigious UEFA Europa League qualification campaign in the past four years. The north-east Albania club with not much history in Albanian football were unlucky to make it to the UEFA Europa league in the 2013-14 season after beating the first three qualifying campaign opponents before being eliminated by Turkey's Trabzonspor in the play-off round.

Having played in the top flight of Albanian football for only the past five years, Kukes made history in the Albanian Superliga in late May when they claimed their first Superliga title.

In the Uefa Europa league campaign, Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club that had been seeded in the draw thanks to their Europa League European competition in 2015-16 when they became the first-ever Albanian team to play in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League.

Skenderbeu, whose six-year domination of Albanian football came to an end only this year when they finished third, will face an easy test against Andorra's Sant Julia in the first qualifying round.

Skenderbeu return to European competition after a one-year ban imposed by European football governing body, UEFA, on match-fixing allegations in the 2015-2016 Champions and Europa League campaigns.

Partizani, who last year replaced banned Skenderbeu in the Champions League qualifying campaign, were drawn against Bulgaria's Botev Plovdiv in the first Europa League round. The Reds finished second for the second straight year in the Superliga, failing to make a comeback after more than two decades of trophyless seasons.

Newly relegated Tirana, the historically most successful Albanian club, are playing the UEFA Europa league thanks to their Albania Cup victory in late May, following a shameful season that saw them suffer their first-ever relegation after almost a century in the top flight of Albanian football.

Tirana, who have recently hired Brazilian coach De Maria, face a tough test against Israel's Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the Europa League campaign.  Tirana, who have won the Albanian championship a record 24 times, are set to become the first-ever relegated Albanian team to play at a European club competition.

The Albanian teams will play their first round qualification matches in late June and early July.

Teams have to pass through three qualifying rounds and a play-off before making it to the group stage of the Europa League. Champions League play-off losers automatically make it to the Europa League group stage like Skenderbeu did in the 2015-16 campaign.

 

Champions League: First qualifying round draw (matches 27/28 June & 4/5 July)

Sheriff (MDA) v Kukës (ALB)

 

Europa League: First qualifying round draw (matches 29 June & 6 July)

Skënderbeu (ALB) v Sant Julià (AND)

Partizani (ALB) v Botev Plovdiv (BUL) 

Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR) v Tirana (ALB)
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_129542" align="alignright" width="300"]De Biasi Gianni De Biasi[/caption]

TIRANA, June 14 - Gianni De Biasi has officially resigned as Albania coach in an unexpected decision after he earlier announced he would be leaving Albania by next October at the end of the World Cup qualification campaign when his contract expires.

The announcement came on Wednesday at a joint press conference with Albanian Football Association president Armand Duka, only one day after the 60-year-old Italian coach who led Albania for the past five and a half years, including the debut at a major tournament such as Euro 2016, said he would be looking for new adventures next October.

The decision comes at a time when Albania made a turning point with a 3-0 away victory with Israel after a shameful five-game losing streak the national side had not experienced in more than a decade.

"I have long thought and meditated and would like to inform you that as of today I will no longer be the coach of our national side. I will stop here because I want the team's best and its growth. I think I have fulfilled my duty which allowed me get from these guys those qualities that in the recent past enabled us to live the European Dream," De Biasi said with tears in his eyes, reading a farewell letter.

The former Torino and Udinese boss who also obtained Albanian citizenship in 2015, said he would take a break and temporary train no other team.

"I would like to stress that I am leaving the national side with no other team to train," said De Biasi, adding that he had resisted tempting offers while leading Albania.

De Biasi was also rumored to take over Italy following the Euro 2016, but remained loyal to Albania although he did not hide his ambition to train a big national side or club.

"I am leaving with difficulty but aware that my era with this team is over and give the one who replaces me the opportunity to get to know the players for the next four qualifiers," added De Biasi.

Earlier on Tuesday, De Biasi complained he was leaving because he had not been offered a contract extension yet.

Football Association President Armand Duka described De Biasi as the best coach Albania has ever had and said his era is not over yet.

"I have always waited until the end before discussing the contract as I thought negotiations would damage the target," said Duka.

With the two upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Macedonia and Liechtenstein scheduled for Sept. 2 and 5, Albania will now have to seriously think about a decent De Biasi successor.

While Albania has been led by several foreign managers for the past 15 years with De Biasi being the longest serving, the football association says it will not exclude the option of an Albanian coach.

Albania avenged Israel with an unexpected 3-0 away victory on June 11, ending a five-game losing streak and climbing to third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers for the Russia 2018.

The away victory temporary places Albania third with 9 points, leading Israel on goal difference in a tough group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain who seem unrivalled in the top two finish.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132830" align="alignright" width="300"]de biasi De Biasi (L) speaks at a press conference. Photo: Albanian Football Association[/caption]

TIRANA, June 13 - Italian Gianni De Biasi says he will quit as Albania's coach next October when Albania closes its World Cup qualification campaign with two tough fixtures against group leaders Spain and Italy.

The announcement came on Tuesday at a press conference in Tirana following a pressure-relieving away victory with Israel that ended a shameful losing streak for the national side.

Albania avenged Israel with an unexpected 3-0 away victory, ending a five-game losing streak and climbing to third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers for the Russia 2018.

Coach De Biasi, who has been leading the national side for the past five and half years and managed to take Albania to a first-ever major tournament such as the Euro 2016 turning into ‘national hero’, says he will be looking for new challenges by late 2017.

“I have already made up my mind I will be leaving at the end of the qualifiers. That's a natural process, with a beginning and an end. It's time for to look for new challenges. All Albania has to do is not make a revolution and the ‘car’ will be perfect," said De Biasi.

The 60-year-old coach had recently come under fire for the team poor performance and there were rumors he could prematurely leave the national side had Albania not avenged the 3-0 home defeat with Israel last November.

Albania’s free fall began last October when the national side was beaten by group leaders Spain, before suffering another two defeats against Israel and Italy and losing its two friendlies against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Luxembourg in the past couple of months.

“I think our qualifiers have met expectations except for the home fixture with Israel, marring our good journey,” said De Biasi.

De Biasi, whose contract expires next October at the end of the World Cup qualification campaign, said it's too late now for the football association to offer him a contract extension.

"Had the football association wanted De Biasi, it should have already done it, today it is too late," he added.

Albania's football association had offered no contract extension to De Biasi as the Italian boss was facing his toughest time since he took over Albania in late 2011.

"De Biasi's contract is coming to an end and we can negotiate whether he will stay under a new contract. Whatever the results, we will respect the contract to the end," Albanian football association president Armand Duka said last week ahead of the Israeli qualifier.

The 60-year-old former Torino and Udinese club coach turned into a national hero for Albania in late 2015 after a historic direct qualification in a European championship in a tough group stage that also featured reigning European champions Portugal, Denmark and Serbia. De Biasi was also rumored to take over Italy following the Euro 2016, but remained loyal to Albania although he did not hide his ambition to train a big national side or club.

At the Euro 2016, Albania was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed sides, punished by its goal difference. The national side lost to hosts France and Switzerland but beat Romania 1-0 in their group stage, in impressive performances that led to a heroes’ welcome upon their arrival in Tirana.

Last February, De Biasi was honored with an Italian presidential order of merit for promoting football and friendly relations between the two neighbouring countries.

Back in 2016, De Biasi who also holds Albanian citizenship, was given the Special Golden Bench award by the Italian Football Association for his historic achievement of taking Albania to the Euro 2016 and promoting the Italian football school.
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                    [post_date] => 2017-06-12 10:13:23
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

[caption id="attachment_132803" align="alignright" width="300"]Albanian players celebrate after the victory with Israel. Photo: Albanian Football Association Albanian players celebrate after the victory with Israel. Photo: Albanian Football Association[/caption]

TIRANA, June 12 - Albania avenged Israel with an unexpected 3-0 away victory, ending a five-game losing streak and climbing to third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers for the Russia 2018.

Lugano striker Armando Sadiku was Albania's hero with a spectacular first-half double from two long-range shots while playmaker Ledian Memushaj scored his first national side goal to make it 3-0 after a perfect team move.

Down to nine men, Albania lost 3-0 in their home qualifier against Israel last November in an inaugural match played under extremely tight security measures over fears of a possible terrorist attack, irritating the Red & Black fans who have since boycotted the national side’s matches, claiming unfair treatment by police forces.

The away victory now temporary places Albania third in Group G of the qualifiers with 9 points, leading Israel on goal difference in a tough group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain who seem unrivalled in the top two finish.

Group leaders Spain and Italy got easy wins over Macedonia and Liechtenstein on Sunday night and have a seven-point lead over Albania and Israel.

With four other games to go, Albania's chances of making it to the top two finish are almost zero, but the national side is now back in the fight for a third place finish, a position that secures neither direct qualification, nor play-off  opportunities, but can help improve the team’s seeding ahead of the Euro 2020 qualification draw.

The away victory also put an end to an embarrassing 5-game losing streak the national side had not experienced in more than a decade with an impressive win that reminded fans of Albania’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign. Albania directly qualified against all odds as the second best team in the Euro 2016 campaign in a tough group stage that also featured eventual Euro 2016 winners Portugal as well as Denmark and Serbia, making its debut appearance at a major tournament.

The Red & Blacks were unlucky to make it to the knockout stage of the Euro 2016 as one of the best third-placed sides, punished by their goal difference. The national side lost to hosts France and Switzerland but beat Romania 1-0 in their group stage, in impressive performances that led to a heroes’ welcome upon their arrival in Tirana.

Albania’s free fall began last October when the national side was beaten by group leaders Spain, before suffering another two defeats against Israel and Italy and losing its two friendlies against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Luxembourg in the past couple of months.

The away victory against Israel also brought much-needed relief for Italian coach Gianni De Biasi who has been leading Albania for the past five years and is regarded as a hero for taking Albania to a first-ever major tournament.

The 60-year-old coach had recently come under fire for the team poor performance and there were rumors he could prematurely leave the national side in case of a new defeat by Israel.

"I wanted this victory, this is a team victory by a team who did what they had to and what they did most of the time under my lead. The team showed the same qualities they displayed in the Euro campaign. I am angry as we could have scored another goal," said the former Torino and Udinese boss.

"We showed we were superior to Israel in all aspects," said De Biasi, recalling how Albania was punished by both the referee and its own mistakes in the home qualifier against Israel last November when Albania had two players sent off.

“I know we can lose against Spain and Italy but we can play as equal with others," he added.

Striker Armando Sadiku said he was happy for Albania’s comeback and having helped the team with his brace.

“All players were looking forward to do their best. We are happy we ‘avenged’ Israel. I am happy I scored a brace which I dedicate to all Albanians wherever they are," said Sadiku.

The 26-year-old striker had a wonderful second-half season with Lugano in the Swiss top league which he helped climb from the relegation zone to achieve a third-place and Europa League qualification.

Having scored nine 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.

Albania’s victory was also echoed by Israeli media which described the loss against Albania as “crushing and demoralising.”

"The small contingent of Albania fans was louder from the 15,000 locals from the start and was given something to celebrate in the 22nd minute," wrote the Jerusalem Post.

The Albanian national side will 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.

Albania’s national side features players in the Italian, German, Swiss, Turkish and U.S top leagues with Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj, Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, Hamburger center back Mergim Mavraj, Istanbul Basaksehir striker Sokol Cikalleshi and Lugano forward Armando Sadiku as some of the most prominent.

 
                    [post_title] => World Cup campaign: Albania avenge Israel with stunning 3-0 away victory 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 5 - Modest Luxembourg came from behind to beat Albania 2-1 in a friendly ahead of a key World Cup qualifier with Israel, making Albania suffer its fifth consecutive loss since last October, in the longest losing streak in more than a decade.

The friendly was a warm-up for the key June 11 qualifier Albania faces with Israel in what is considered a decisive fixture for the national side’s hopes for a third place finish.

Albania's Italian coach Gianni De Biasi has now come under fire again and another loss against Israel could prematurely end his Albania contract due to expire next October at the end of World Cup qualification campaign.

Having led Albania for the past five years and managing to take them to a first ever major competition such as the Euro 2016, the national side led by De Biasi has left much to be desired following the impressive Euro 2016 debut when Albania was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed sides, punished by its goal difference. The national side lost to hosts France and Switzerland but beat Romania 1-0 in their group stage, in impressive performances that led to a heroes’ welcome upon their arrival in Tirana.

Albania’s free fall began last October when the national side was beaten by group leaders Spain, before suffering another two defeats against Israel and Italy and losing its two friendlies against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Luxembourg in the past couple of months.

The long losing streak which Albania had not experienced since 2003 under German coach Hans-Peter Briegel came after the Red & Blacks made a good start in their opening World Cup campaign with two victories against Macedonia and Liechtenstein.

The departure of long-serving captain, center back Lorik Cana following the Euro 2016 campaign, has also left a void that has yet to be filled in the national side’s defence and motivation, two of the weakest points in the past five fixtures.

Speaking after the loss with Luxembourg, coach De Biasi said the team lacks the motivation they had for the Euro 2016 campaign and now have to find the right motivation and strength in themselves

"It was a loss that weighs heavily as we were beaten by a weaker side. The team has not found the desire and determination to achieve their target yet following the Euro campaign," said De Biasi.

"I have the team under control, but the players must try harder. These players don't need a push to give their best, they should find the motivation and strength in themselves and do this starting with the next Israel match," said De Biasi.

“It was an Italian coach who made this team think that dreams can come true and convinced them they could fly and they flew into the European championship," said De Biasi.

The 60-year-old former Torino and Udinese club coach was also rumored to take over Italy following the Euro 2016 campaign and has not hidden his ambition to train a big national side or club.

The national side will be training in Istanbul for its key June 11 qualifier away to Israel in a bid to overcome their losing run and avenge their home defeat.

Down to nine men, Albania lost 3-0 in their home qualifier against Israel last November in an inaugural match played under extremely tight security measures over fears of a possible terrorist attack, irritating the Red & Black fans who have since boycotted the national side’s matches, claiming unfair treatment by police forces.

"Last November's home qualifier left a bad taste in our mouth. It was both the referee and we who were not focused on an important target making the opponent’s job easier. Israel are a tough side and at this level you cannot face anybody by not showing real determination," says De Biasi.

 

Qualification bid over

Albania’s chances of making it to the World Cup are almost zero now following three consecutive losses in the qualifying campaign including against group leaders Spain and Italy, but the Israel qualifier will be key in the fight for a third place which earns no play-off opportunity, but serves the teams to improve their seeding ahead of the Euro 2020 qualification draw.

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.

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.

Israel, who take on Albania following a 4-1 loss to group leaders Spain, also targets a third place to improve its seeding ahead of the Euro 2020 campaign.

“We beat Macedonia and Albania on the road and third place is our real target,” Israeli coach Elisha Levy has said.

Albania's national side features players in the Italian, German, Swiss, Turkish and U.S top leagues with Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj, Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, Hamburger center back Mergim Mavraj, Istanbul Basaksehir striker Sokol Cikalleshi and Lugano forward Armando Sadiku as some of the most prominent.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania face Israel as shameful Luxembourg defeat extends losing streak to five
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 1 - An extra time double by Congolese striker Merveil earned Tirana the Albanian Cup trophy and a ticket to the UEFA Europa League qualification campaign in an irony of fate encounter with Skenderbeu after the country's most successful club suffered their first-ever relegation after about a century in the top flight of Albanian football.

There was no celebration by players and fans who consider the relegation a shame that cannot be compensated by any trophy.

Regular time ended 1-1 with Skenderbeu's Croatian defender Marko Radas scoring a late equalizer, temporarily waning hopes for the record 24-times Superliga champions not to end the season in full disgrace.

For Albania, this will be the first time a team not in the top flight represents the country in European competition, giving Tirana a boost to somehow overcome their financial problems due to Cup and UEFA participation rewards.

The final also saw the participation of the “Tirona Fanatics” supporters who broke their three-month boycott to support their team but also protest against the club’s president Refik Halili and the municipality of Tirana, the minority shareholder, whom they blame for the club’s mismanagement.

The victory makes Tirana the most successful club in Albania Cup campaigns, with 16 trophes, overtaking arch-rivals Partizani who have been trophyless since more than a decade but are looking for a comeback as they finished second in the past two Superliga seasons.

Korça-based Skenderbeu had nothing to lose in the Cup Final as they finished third this season, securing the UEFA Europa League participation, but ending the domination of Albanian football after six straight Superliga titles.

Skenderbeu now face the threat of new punishment by Albania's football association after European football governing body, UEFA, banned them from European competition this year on match-fixing allegations. There have been rumors Skenderbeu could be relegated on domestic match-fixing allegations, paving the way for Tirana's return to the Superliga, but the chances of this worst-case scenario materializing remain unknown.

 
                    [post_title] => No celebration as newly relegated Tirana claim Albania Cup
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

superligaTIRANA, May 29 - Albania's historically most successful club, FK Tirana, have been relegated after almost a century in the top flight of Albania's national football, irritating dozens of thousands of fans and club legends over the poor management of the 24-times record holder champions.

The relegation came after Tirana failed to win its do-or-die fixture against Vllaznia last weekend after the White & Blues were held to goalless draw in the closing Superliga tie, plunging Tirana to the First Division.  Both teams, two of the eldest and best in Albanian football history, faced the relegation threat in case of losing, but could have also secured their stay in the top flight with a draw had Laçi not beaten unmotivated Teuta in the closing Superliga week.

Tirana’s relegation comes following a series of losses in the championship’s second stage and amid financial problems with the world’s football governing body, FIFA, banning the Albanian club from the winter transfer window in punishment for debts to players. The country’s most successful club also lacked the support of its “Tirona Fanatics,” the club’s strongest supporters, who have been boycotting the club’s matches since last March in protest for the club’s poor performance and a decision by the club’s owners to allow arch rivals Partizani play their home matches at Tirana’s stadium.

The only consolation for Tirana fans now is the Wednesday, May 31 Albania Cup final against Skenderbeu, whose six year domination of Albanian football came to an end this year after finishing third.

The relegation sparked irritation among “Tirona Fanatics” fans who reiterated their call on club president Refik Halili to immediately step down. A traditional sponsor of Tirana, Halili is the owner of a 66 percent stake in Tirana, the rest being owned by the municipality of Tirana.

"This is the most shameful day in Tirona's 97-year history as the team is facing a first ever relegation," the fans said in a statement. The Fanatics say they will break their boycott and attend Wednesday’s Cup final against Skenderbeu at Elbasan Arena, a last chance that would give Tirana the opportunity to play in the UEFA Europa League qualification campaign.

While Tirana and Korabi were relegated from the 10-team Albanian Superliga, Kamza and Lushnja will replace them as the newly promoted clubs.

Minnows Kukes were the surprise winners of this year's championship.

Having played in the top flight of Albanian football for only the past five years, north-east Albania-based Kukes made history in the Albanian Superliga after they beat rivals Skenderbeu amid controversy to claim their first championship in their penultimate game.

Partizani finished second for the second straight year, failing to make a comeback after more than two decades of trophyless seasons.

Kukesi’s championship victory also put an end to Skenderbeu’s domination of Albania football after the south-east Albania-based club won the Albanian Superliga for six consecutive years, also making history as the first Albanian club to have made it to the group stage of a major European competition such as the UEFA Europa League in 2015. Their success was somehow overshadowed by a UEFA decision imposing a one-year ban from European competition against the Albanian champions on match-fixing allegations.
                    [post_title] => Albania’s most successful club relegated after a century in top flight 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 23 - Albania will play a friendly against modest Luxembourg on June 4 ahead of a key World Cup qualifier against Israel a week later in a bid to overcome one of its worst losing streaks in more than a decade.

The friendly against Luxembourg, a team Albania has lost only once in their six encounters, is seen as a test for the Red & Blacks qualifier against Israel and an opportunity to avenge last November's 3-0 home defeat.

Down to nine men, Albania lost 3-0 in its home qualifier against Israel last November in an inaugural match played under extremely tight security measures over fears of a possible terrorist attack, irritating the Red & Black fans who have since boycotted the national side’s matches, claiming unfair treatment by police forces.

"We are not in a good position in the rankings and we have to do our best, starting with Israel which is a tough match both logistically and because of the opponent we face. They are tough, but we will go to avenge the three points Israel got in Albania," coach Gianni De Biasi has said.

Albania's chances of making it to the World Cup are almost zero now following three consecutive losses in the qualifying campaign including against group leaders Spain and Italy, but the Israel qualifier will be key in the fight for a third place which earns no play-off opportunity, but serves the teams to improve their seeding ahead of the Euro 2020 qualification draw.

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.

With both upcoming matches on foreign soil, Albania will initially train for four days in Luxembourg before the final preparations for the Israel qualifier in Istanbul.

However, with most European championships in their final stage, coach De Biasi fears the players will not be in their top shape.

Captain Ansi Agolli will miss the Israeli friendly due to suspension, the same to Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha who was sent off in the home qualifier with Israel.

Albania’s coach Gianni De Biasi has come under fire to prematurely end his Albania contract due to expire in late 2017 following the national sides fourth consecutive loss, including three World Cup qualifiers and a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina, a losing streak Albania had not been suffering since more than a decade ago.

Having led Albania for the past five years and managing to take it to a first ever major competition such as the Euro 2016, the national side led by De Biasi has left much to be desired following the impressive Euro 2016 debut when Albania was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed sides, punished by its goal difference.

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.

Israel, who take on Albania following a 4-1 loss to group leaders Spain, also targets a third place to improve its seeding ahead of the Euro 2020 campaign.

"We beat Macedonia and Albania on the road and third place is our real target," Israeli coach Elisha Levy has said.
                    [post_title] => World Cup campaign: Albania seeks to avenge Israel in fight for third place finish 
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, June 26 - Albania's KF Skenderbeu have been stripped of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The decision handed last weekend by the Ethics Commission of the Albanian Football Association came as part of a UEFA probe into Skenderbeu over match fixing allegations at European and domestic competitions.

In addition to stripping the club who has been dominating Albanian football in the past decade of one championship title, the Ethics Committee also handed Skenderbeu a 2 million lek (€15,000) fine and deducted 12 points from their 2016-2017 Superliga campaign with no effect for their third-place and Europa League participation this year due to their huge advantage over fourth-placed Luftetari.

Skenderbeu also faced the threat of being relegated, but the Ethics Committee argued such punishment had not been handed by UEFA itself.

Last year, Europe's football governing body, UEFA, banned Skenderbeu for one year from European competition on match-fixing allegations in their 2015-2016 Europa League campaign when they became the first ever Albanian club to make it to the group stage of a major European competition. The decision was also upheld by Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport after an appeal filed by Skenderbeu.

UEFA welcomed the decision saying “the case affirms the reliability of UEFA’s betting fraud detection system in identifying abnormal betting patterns on matches played by the Albanian club at European and domestic levels.”

The UEFA probe came after Brussels-based Federbet gaming anti-corruption organization, cast match-fixing doubts on several of Skenderbeu fixtures, including the UEFA Champions League qualifying round with Northern Ireland’s Crusaders and UEFA group stage matches with Lokomotiv Moscow, Dinamo Zagreb and Sporting Lisbon. Skenderbeu was also suspected of having fixed several domestic matches, which apparently led to their latest punishment by the Albanian Football Association.

Reacting to the ruling, Skenderbeu described the punishment as unprecedented and not based on evidence, warning that they would initiate an appeal with Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"Skenderbeu assures fans that this infringement and threat made by the Ethics Committee, especially by stripping us of a championship title which UEFA itself considered well-deserved, will be fully appealed as we are confident in our incontrovertible innocence," the club said in a statement.

In the upcoming UEFA Europa league campaign, Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club that had been seeded in the draw thanks to their Europa League participation in 2015-16.

Skenderbeu, whose six-year domination of Albanian football came to an end only this year when they finished third, will face an easy test against Andorra’s Sant Julia in the first qualifying round.

The Snow Wolves will play their first-leg match on June 29 before traveling to Andorra on July 6, in what is expected to be an easy first round qualification.

Partizani, who finished second in the past two seasons, are now hopeful they will be crowned champions by another Football Association decision following more than two decades of trophyless seasons.
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