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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De Biasi awarded presidential order of merit ahead of Albania’s qualifier with Italy

De Biasi awarded presidential order of merit ahead of Albania’s qualifier with Italy

TIRANA, Feb. 8 – With few weeks to go before Albania and Italy face each other for the first time in an official competition, Albania’s Italian coach Gianni De Biasi has been honored with an Italian presidential order of merit

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Two Albanian internationals to rival each other at U.S. Major League Soccer

Two Albanian internationals to rival each other at U.S. Major League Soccer

TIRANA, Feb. 6 – Jahmir Hyka has become the newest Albania international to play in the U.S. Major League Soccer where he will rival compatriot Shkelzen Gashi in the Western Conference in the 2017 season starting next March. Hyka has

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Albanian striker moves to new Turkish side

Albanian striker moves to new Turkish side

TIRANA, Feb. 1 – Albanian international Sokol Cikalleshi will spend the rest of season with another Turkish Super League side on loan from Basaksehir following few playing opportunities during the past year. The 26-year forward moved to Akhisar Belediye just

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Albania claim historic futsal qualification

Albania claim historic futsal qualification

TIRANA, Jan. 30 – Albania beat England, Bulgaria and Malta to claim a first-ever qualification from a preliminary futsal round in only a decade after the national team made its debut. The futsal national side beat hosts Bulgaria 7-1, thrashed

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Albania drawn in derby with debutants Kosovo for Women’s World Cup qualifiers

Albania drawn in derby with debutants Kosovo for Women’s World Cup qualifiers

TIRANA, Jan. 23 – In less than a year after neighboring Kosovo was admitted as a full member by the world football’s governing body, Albania and Kosovo will face each other for the first time in an official tournament for

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Manaj moves to Pisa after lackluster half season with Pescara

Manaj moves to Pisa after lackluster half season with Pescara

TIRANA, Jan. 19 – Albania’s promising forward Rey Manaj will spend the rest of the season with Pisa in Italy’s Serie B following a lackluster six months with Pescara at the top Italian league. The Albania-born, Italy raised 19-year-old striker

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Albania’s sole Olympic record holder dies at 73

Albania’s sole Olympic record holder dies at 73

TIRANA, Jan. 18 – One of Albania’s best weightlifters, Olympic Games  record holder in the no longer practiced clean and press style, Ymer Pampuri, has died at the age of 73 in his hometown of Tirana following a heart attack.

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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.
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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] => deb 2TIRANA, Feb. 8 - With few weeks to go before Albania and Italy face each other for the first time in an official competition, Albania's Italian coach Gianni De Biasi has been honored with an Italian presidential order of merit for promoting football and friendly relations between the two neighbouring countries.

De Biasi, who has been Albania's coach for the past five years and managed to take Albania's to a first-ever major competition such as the Euro 2016 in France, was awarded the Order of the Star of Italy, an Italian presidential honor given to personalities contributing to the promotion of Italian prestige abroad and friendly relations.

Speaking at a ceremony in Tirana on Tuesday, Italian ambassador to Albania Alberto Cutillo said De Biasi was awarded the presidential knighthood order "for his contribution to Albanian-Italian relations, promoting Albania's image abroad and reflecting Italy's political engagement for Albania's EU integration through football."

"It's an honor awarded not only for sports achievements, but above all human merits. De Biasi managed to take Albania to Europe before politics," said the Italian ambassador, recalling Albania's historic Euro 2016 debut.

Coach De Biasi, who has also earlier obtained Albanian citizenship, said he was happy to receive such a great honour and proud to have created a linking bridge between the two countries "separated by the sea, but united through the same mentality."

Back in 2016, De Biasi 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.

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.

World Cup campaign

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 Italy qualifier

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.

Coach De Biasi says Albania will face a tough match against the four-time world champions who rival Spain for direct qualification in Group G of the qualifiers.

"The Albanian players in Italy are extra motivated for this challenge. We will face an extraordinary team who are seeking to qualify for the World Cup," De Biasi has said.

Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj, Pescara captain Ledian Memushaj and Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha are Albania's most popular players at Italy's Serie A top league.

"We will have only four days available to prepare for this match, which is a short time, but we will do our best. I would be more than happy if we play well and decently and let's leave the result to the pitch performance," adds De Biasi.

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. The match is expected to attract great interest, especially from about half a million Albanians who live and work in Italy, turning it into a 'local derby,' also considering thousands of Italy supporters in Albania.

Coach Giampiero Ventura has described the Albania fixture as Italy's toughest test in the qualifying campaign.

“We expect the most difficult match of the group and the most important of the two-year campaign. If we don’t beat Albania, it would become very difficult to win the group – not even winning in Spain would be enough," the 68-year-old Italian coach has earlier told the FIFA portal.

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

Albania will travel to Israel on June 11 and play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The national side 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_131033" align="alignright" width="243"]Jahmir Hyka Jahmir Hyka[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 6 - Jahmir Hyka has become the newest Albania international to play in the U.S. Major League Soccer where he will rival compatriot Shkelzen Gashi in the Western Conference in the 2017 season starting next March.

Hyka has joined the San Jose Earthquakes on a multi-year contract from Swiss Super League club Luzern where he has been playing since 2011, making 182 appearances and tallying 25 goals and 20 assists.

The 28-year Albanian playmaker is an important reinforcement for the Earthquakes who missed the MPL Playoffs for the fourth straight year in their 2016 campaign.

“Hyka brings an element of surprise to any team and to any match,” said Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli. “Being a player that is very strong technically, he attacks the defense in one-on-one situations without any indication of which way he will go or the pass that he will be making. This means that our strikers will be well served and the element of surprise will allow us to attack from many fronts,” he added.

Hyka who started his career in his hometown of Tirana before playing in Norwegian, Greek and German top leagues, is also a regular with Albania’s national team, having scored twice in 42 caps and with a key contribution to Albania's debut at a major competition such as the Euro 2016.

“Jahmir is a creative player that will make us a more dangerous team on the attack,” said Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear. “He can play on both sides of the field and should open up more opportunities for our team to score,” he added.

Commenting on the move through a post on social networks, Hyka said it was not an easy decision leaving his second home Lucerne.

“It is not easy for me writing these lines. I spent six wonderful years in this city where I made a lot of friends and grew up as a player and man. It is now time to embark on a new challenge. Brokenhearted, I am saying goodbye to you, hopeful that one day I will return to my second home," said Hyka.

In the 2016 season, Albanian international striker Shkelzen Gashi claimed the Goal of the Year award at the U.S. Major League Soccer with a wonder left-footed free kick he converted for his Colorado Rapids. The Switzerland-born striker of Kosovo roots scored nine goals last season helping Colorado make it to the Western Conference Championship.

Hyka is the third Albanian international to play in the Major League Soccer after Hamdi Salihi’s 2012-2013 spell with D.C. United.

The long distance Hyka and Gashi have to travel to join the Albanian teammates and their club engagements is expected to be a problem for coach De Biasi as Albania have been facing some tough times in its Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying bid in a group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130945" align="alignright" width="300"]Sokol Cikalleshi Sokol Cikalleshi[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 1 - Albanian international Sokol Cikalleshi will spend the rest of season with another Turkish Super League side on loan from Basaksehir following few playing opportunities during the past year.

The 26-year forward moved to Akhisar Belediye just as the January transfer window was about to close after making only two appearances with Basaksehir this season in the Turkish Super League compared to 27 last season when he also scored six goals. Basaksehir have been playing one of their best seasons, being one of the favourites to win this year's title.

Cikalleshi’s decision to leave the club was also influenced by Basaksehir’s last-minute signing of former Arsenal and Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor, further curbing his playing chances.

"I had offers to play in Turkey, but also in Europe and Arabia, but wanting to remain on the Turkish market I moved to Akhisar," Cikalleshi has told reporters.

"When a player like Adebayor was hired, my playing chances considerably reduced and the best thing I could do was going somewhere I could play. I chose a very good team such as Akhisar where I will be the key attacker," Cikalleshi added.

His new Akhisar team ranks 13 in the Turkish Superligue, just above the relegation zone.

Cikalleshi started his career as a professional with his hometown team of Besa Kavaje when he was only 17 and also played for several other top Albanian teams before moving to Croatia with Split in 2014 and joining Basaksehir in 2015.

Cikalleshi has 21 caps with Albania and has scored twice.

Albania’s promising forward Rey Manaj will also spend the rest of the season with Pisa in Italy’s Serie B following a lackluster six months with Pescara at the top Italian league.

In late December, Albania’s international center back Mergim Mavraj also 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.

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 has been facing some tough times in its Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying bid.

With seven 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.

The Red & Blacks will travel to Italy on March 14, 2017 to conclude the first round of group matches for the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 30 - Albania beat England, Bulgaria and Malta to claim a first-ever qualification from a preliminary futsal round in only a decade after the national team made its debut.

The futsal national side beat hosts Bulgaria 7-1, thrashed England 5-1 before narrowly winning 3-2 against Malta to qualify in the main round of the UEFA Futsal Euro 2018 on full points.

Albania will now face hosts Azerbaijan, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group 2 of the main round in three key fixtures that will take place in Azerbaijan from April 3 to 12.

Albania has a chance to make it to the final tournament as seven runners-up plus the best third-placed side can still make it through play-offs, in addition to the seven group winners that directly qualify for the final Slovenia tournament in early 2018.

"I think it was a huge achievement for Albanian futsal. We made a great achievement beating teams such as England, Bulgaria and Malta leading to Albania's first ever qualification from a preliminary round. This job that started three years ago has already reaped its harvest. 2016 was a historic year for Albanian football and 2017 can follow as a historic year," says coach Erind Resuli.

Back in 2016, Albania made its first ever appearance at a major football tournament such as Euro 2016 and was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed teams, losing a chance only on poorer goal difference.

Speaking about the group stage qualification prospects, the Albanian coach says "we will do our best although the opponents are very tough, especially hosts Azerbaijan who have naturalized Brazilians on their national team.”

Albania launched its futsal national team in 2005, a decade after Europe's football governing body. UEFA, started organizing futsal tournaments. The country also has a futsal premier league since 2003.
                    [post_title] => Albania claim historic futsal qualification 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 23 – In less than a year after neighboring Kosovo was admitted as a full member by the world football’s governing body, Albania and Kosovo will face each other for the first time in an official tournament for the preliminary qualification round of the France 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The Albania-Kosovo fixture will be a small derby of Albanian-roots, dominated by Kosovo players as Albania’s only five-year-old women’s national side features as many as 15 Kosovo players in the 22 players called up for this tournament.

The two teams have been drawn in Group 2 of the preliminary round along with Greece and Malta as part of the four mini-tournaments that will be played between April 6 to 11, 2017 with the four section winners and the best runner-up progressing to the qualifying stage, joining the 30-ranked entrants in the upcoming April 25 draw.

Albania’s 42-year-old coach Armir Grima, a former Albanian goalkeeper who also played in Kosovo for some time, says the Albania-Kosovo encounter is something special that will produce rare emotions.

“To tell the truth I didn’t expect to be drawn in the same group. I am surprised because it’s something uncommon but also special about two Albanian teams playing each other. But, of course, they’re our opponents and we want to beat them despite the brotherly encounter,” Grima has told reporters.

Speaking about Albania’s chances of progressing to the qualifying stage, Grima singles out Greece and Kosovo as the toughest opponents.

“Kosovo and Greece are both tough teams and it will be difficult for us. We need luck to hope for qualification and I am fully confident in the players,” he adds.

Asked about the possibility of Kosovo players leaving the Albanian national side now that they have their own national team making their historic debut nine years after the country declared its independence from Serbia, the Albanian coach says the young women are free to choose.

“We really have a lot of Kosovo players in the team, but they have chosen Albania with all their heart. I don’t want to prejudice any woman who has left because it’s their right to do so, but I can say that they do have obligations even towards Albania,” he adds.

Several Kosovo players from the U-19 have already left Albania in a massive exodus that has not affected the major national side.

Kosovo’s female coach Aferdita Fazlija says she wouldn’t have wanted Albania in the same group.

“After Kosovo was admitted as a FIFA and UEFA member, there has always existed the possibility of facing Albania. If there was a way I could intervene in the draw, then I wouldn’t have wanted to be drawn in the same group. In two different groups, the odds for success would be far bigger,” Fazlija has told Kosovo media.

The Kosovo coach says there will be no pressure on players already playing with Albania to pick Kosovo.

“The women already playing for Albania will have to make a decision for themselves, but they will not be denied the right to return. Morally, we have to find a solution to the players’ desire and will,” she says.

Suada Jashari, a Kosovo-born midfielder who has been playing with Albania since 2011 when the women’s national side was founded, says the fact she will be playing her native Kosovo is something special that should be seen as only an all-Albanian football match.

“I have been with the Albanian national side since 2011 and I am happy for this choice. I have to stress that women’s football in Kosovo is much earlier than in Albania and this is one more reason why there are more Kosovo Red and Black players with Albania,” says the 28-year-old midfielder.

Albanian women currently rank 72nd among 177 teams in the FIFA ranking compared to a best ever 59th in 2013 and have already participated in two Euro and World Cup qualifiers in a major performance considering only a decade of women’s football history in the country.

In the men’s national side, several players of Kosovo roots who were not called up for the major Albania debut in the Euro 2016, including 20-year-old talent Milot Rashica who plays as an attacking midfielder for Dutch Eredivisie side Vitesse, have left Albania to play for Kosovo.

In the Euro debut, Albania’s Taulant Xhaka and Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka became the first two brothers to face each other in different national sides at a European championship in a group stage fixture which 10-men Albania narrowly lost 1-0.
                    [post_title] => Albania drawn in derby with debutants Kosovo for Women's World Cup qualifiers
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 19 - Albania's promising forward Rey Manaj will spend the rest of the season with Pisa in Italy's Serie B following a lackluster six months with Pescara at the top Italian league.

The Albania-born, Italy raised 19-year-old striker will join Pisa on loan from Inter Milan in a bid to save the Serie B club from relegation.

Manaj scored twice in 12 appearances for Pescara in the first half of this season, but was not a first choice for coach Massimo Oddo with whom he also had some arguments. With the season already at its halfway stage, newly promoted Pescara and their captain, Albanian international Ledian Memushaj, find themselves in the relegation zone having collected only 9 points in 19 matches.

Manaj will join two other Albanian players at Pisa, Albanian international striker Edgar Cani and Kosovo goalkeeper Samir Ujkani, a former Albanian international.

The talented 19-year old forward is seen as a key player for Albania's attack and has been singled out by Albania's Italian coach Gianni De Biasi among emerging talents.

“I don’t like talking about special individuals as the team spirit has been and remains our strength. But I could think about Manaj who plays at the Italian championship and who will for sure be part of our team in the future. He is now gaining experience and his potential is well-recognized by everybody,” De Biasi has said.

Manaj scored one goal in three appearances for the national side.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_130733" align="alignright" width="300"]Pampuri sets a world record at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games Pampuri sets a world record at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 18 - One of Albania's best weightlifters, Olympic Games  record holder in the no longer practiced clean and press style, Ymer Pampuri, has died at the age of 73 in his hometown of Tirana following a heart attack.

In 1972, Pampuri set a world record at the Munich Olympic Games for the press at featherweight lifting 127.5 kg, finishing ninth overall following an injury. He has since been a world record holder in the clean and press which later in 1972 was removed from competition due to difficulties in judging proper technique and health concerns.

In one of his rare interviews, Pampuri recalled how Albania's communist authorities of that time took him to a psychiatrist for his comments that he would come back as a champion from the Olympic Games and how he was punished for giving an interview with a foreign TV upon his return.

Albania sent a team of four shooters and a weightlifter to the Munich 1972 Olympic Games but the team did not reappear at the Olympic Games until 1992 when the communist regime collapsed.

Weightlifting has traditionally been Albania’s best performing Olympic discipline at international competitions. Ilirjan Suli finished fifth in the men’s middleweight category at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Romela Begaj was sixth in the women’s lightweight at Beijing 2008.
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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.
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