Cash-strapped Vllaznia looking for investors to return competitive to Albanian Superliga

Cash-strapped Vllaznia looking for investors to return competitive to Albanian Superliga

TIRANA, Dec. 11 – One of Albania’s most successful football clubs is heading for privatization after a failed six-year spell as a wholly local government-owned club. Northern Albania Shkodra-based Vllaznia club managed by the local Shkodra municipality has announced it

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Romela Begaj claims gold at U.S. weightlifting tournament

Romela Begaj claims gold at U.S. weightlifting tournament

TIRANA, Dec. 5 – Romela Begaj has become Albania’s first ever world champion in women’s weightlifting and Albania’s second athlete to claim a world championships gold meal. The 31-year-old Albanian won gold in the snatch with 107 kg and silver

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Europa League: Home win against Dynamo Kiev not enough for Albania’s Skenderbeu to advance to knockout stage

Europa League: Home win against Dynamo Kiev not enough for Albania’s Skenderbeu to advance to knockout stage

TIRANA, Nov. 24 – Albania’s Skenderbeu bid adieu to their Europa League knockout stage qualification dream on Thursday night despite claiming a deserved home win against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv, their first in the first five group stage games. In a

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Albanian Superliga: Partizani beat reigning champions to gain momentum after sacking former Juventus player

Albanian Superliga: Partizani beat reigning champions to gain momentum after sacking former Juventus player

TIRANA, Nov. 20 – Partizani came from behind to beat reigning champions Kukes 2-1 on Monday and claim victory after a three-game losing streak and one of the poorest championship starts that saw former Juventus defender Mark Iuliano sacked as

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Ten-man Albania surprise Turkey with 3-2 away victory

Ten-man Albania surprise Turkey with 3-2 away victory

TIRANA, Nov. 14 – Albania beat Turkey 3-2 in a surprise away victory as the Red & Blacks played in 10 men for most of the time after playmaker Ledian Memushaj was sent off with a second yellow card just

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Albania play Turkey in friendly test ahead of Nations League, Euro 2020 qualifiers

Albania play Turkey in friendly test ahead of Nations League, Euro 2020 qualifiers

Tirana, Nov. 13 – Albania will play away to Turkey tonight in a friendly that is seen as a test for the national side and coach Christian Pannuci as the Red & Blacks prepare for their Euro 2020 bid. The

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Skenderbeu’s Europa League hopes suffer blow after Partizan Belgrade defeat

Skenderbeu’s Europa League hopes suffer blow after Partizan Belgrade defeat

TIRANA, Nov. 2 – Skenderbeu’s hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the UEFA Europa League received a major setback on Thursday night as Albania’s most successful club of the past decade were beaten 2-0 by Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade

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Albania’s Skenderbeu held to goalless draw in smooth fixture with Partizan Belgrade

Albania’s Skenderbeu held to goalless draw in smooth fixture with Partizan Belgrade

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Oct. 20 – Skenderbeu were held to a goalless draw on Thursday night by Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade in a tough home encounter for the Europa League group stage where Serbian fans were banned to support their

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Juventus star handed ‘ban’ to take penalty kicks against Albanian keepers after missing twice

Juventus star handed ‘ban’ to take penalty kicks against Albanian keepers after missing twice

TIRANA, Oct. 16 – Juventus’s Argentinian forward Paulo Dybala, regarded as the most decent Lionel Messi successor, has missed two penalty kicks in the past two weeks in Italy’s Serie A and it was Albanian goalkeepers in both cases who

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Albania lined up in tough rivalry division with Serbia, Greece for maiden UEFA Nations League

Albania lined up in tough rivalry division with Serbia, Greece for maiden UEFA Nations League

TIRANA, Oct. 12 – Albania has been lined up in League C of the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 11 - One of Albania's most successful football clubs is heading for privatization after a failed six-year spell as a wholly local government-owned club.

Northern Albania Shkodra-based Vllaznia club managed by the local Shkodra municipality has announced it is looking for a consultant that will evaluate the club’s assets and prepare the documentation for an action to sell the club’s shares, likely to take place in early 2018.

The privatization process comes at a time when the club’s financial situation has been sharply deteriorating and Vllaznia, one of the elite clubs of Albania’s top flight football have not been competitive in the past few years and during the last season hardly managed to escape what would have been their first ever relegation in their 87-year history.

The situation remains critical even this year when Vllaznia find themselves in the relegation zone and trail leaders Skenderbeu by 19 points in the first 14 games of the Albanian Superliga.

Vllaznia are also almost out of the Albanian Cup competition after losing their first-leg game 2-0 against Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club which is playing in the First Division for the first time this season. Tirana were demoted last season in a final championship decider against Vllaznia which escaped relegation following a goalless draw.

Vllaznia’s privatization also comes amid anger and protests by local fans against the club’s critical situation and reports that players are unmotivated due to the municipality failing to pay them in time as a result of problems with accumulated debts.

"We wouldn’t like the municipality of Shkodra to be sole owner in the football club, but have as many shareholders as possible," Shkodra Mayor Voltana Ademi has earlier said.

"We will continue to support Vllaznia until the privatization is carried out. That is an institutional, political but also personal will of mine of supporting the club until it falls into private hands,” she has said.

According to a document published on the Shkodra municipality's website, the club's losses were at an average of 51 million lek (€380,000) annually from 2011 to 2015 when the municipality was the sole owner of Vllaznia following the withdrawal of its private sponsors and shareholders.

The assets of the club which has won nine championship titles and six Albanian Cups were estimated at 258 million lek (about €2 million) in 2015, but that does not include its renovated stadium.

Shkodra's 16,000-seat ‘Loro Borici’ stadium was renovated in 2016 and also  hosts the national side's home matches and those of neighboring Kosovo which has yet to build a stadium meeting international standards after it was admitted as a FIFA and UEFA member in 2016 and played its first World Cup qualifying campaign.

The municipality of Shkodra, the largest local government unit in northern Albania, says annual losses Vllaznia incurs have seriously hampered local public finances and expects the club's privatization to strip Shkodra taxpayers of financing a company with huge losses and make a concrete investment with its sale revenues.

Albania’s top flight clubs are partly local investor and mostly municipal-owned.

The country’s Superliga clubs have made huge progress in the past few years with Skenderbeu making it to the Europa League group stage twice in the past three years, but failing to progress to the knockout stage.

However, only few Albanian Superliga players are called up for the national side which failed to make it to the 2018 World Cup after a debut appearance in France’s Euro 2016.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 5 - Romela Begaj has become Albania's first ever world champion in women's weightlifting and Albania's second athlete to claim a world championships gold meal.

The 31-year-old Albanian won gold in the snatch with 107 kg and silver in total with 235 kg after finishing fifth in the clean and jerk with 128 kg. She competed in the women's 69 kg at the IWF World championships in the U.S. last weekend.

“Begaj showed once again that she is a champion, reconfirming her values and unveiling that higher and higher results can be achieved through hard work. The Albanian sport and she should be proud of raising the Albanian flag again in international competitions," said Viron Bezhani, the head of the Albanian National Olympic Committee.

Begaj has represented Albania twice at the Summer Olympic Games and managed to finish sixth in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She was banned to participate at the Rio 2016 Olympics after being suspended over doping in 2014 at the Kazakhstan World Weightlifting Championships where she was stripped of her gold medal in snatch.

Among other Albanian weightlifter competing at the U.S. tournament, Erkand Qerimaj finished sixth overall in the men's 77 kg category.

Weightlifting has traditionally been Albania’s best performing Olympic discipline at international competitions.

In 1972, late Ymer 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. Pampuri who died in early 2017 at 73 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.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 24 – Albania's Skenderbeu bid adieu to their Europa League knockout stage qualification dream on Thursday night despite claiming a deserved home win against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv, their first in the first five group stage games.

In a home encounter played behind closed doors following UEFA punishment over crowd trouble, Skenderbeu came from behind to beat the Group B leaders 3-2 and avenge their first leg defeat against Ukraine’s toughest side.

An early equalizer by Albanian playmaker Sabien Lilaj and two second half goals by Nigerian striker James and Gambian forward Sowe gave the Albanian 'Snow Wolves" a comfortable lead 3-1 lead until injury time when they risked getting punished after the Ukrainians narrowed Skenderbeu's lead and wasted a golden opportunity just before the final whistle.

Skenderbeu’s victory was downgraded by Partizan's Belgrade's home victory against Swiss Young Boys as the Serbians managed to maintain their three-point lead over the Albanian club with one final game to go. The Serbian club have now mathematically secured their qualification to the next stage on a better head-to-head record having claimed a home victory against Skenderbeu and drawn in their first-leg encounter.

Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv have also mathematically secured their qualification to the knockout stage with a two-point lead over Partizan Belgrade whom they host in their final group stage game and can manage even with a home draw to keep their group lead.

Already having a two-point lead over Young Boys, Skenderbeu need at least a draw when they play the Swiss on December 7 to maintain their third place in group B following a 1-1 first leg home draw.

Skenderbeu returned 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, making history as the only Albanian club to have made it in the final stage of European competitions.

Skenderbeu progressed to the 2017 UEFA Europa League group stage as they beat Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in the qualifying campaign play-offs. The ‘Snow Wolves’ earlier beat Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav, Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty and modest Andorran side Sant Julia in the first three Europa League qualifying rounds.

Albania’s most successful club of the past decade seem unrivaled in this year's Albanian Superliga with a comfortable lead over main rivals Kukes and Partizani in the first eleven games.
                    [post_title] => Europa League: Home win against Dynamo Kiev not enough for Albania's Skenderbeu to advance to knockout stage
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 20 - Partizani came from behind to beat reigning champions Kukes 2-1 on Monday and claim victory after a three-game losing streak and one of the poorest championship starts that saw former Juventus defender Mark Iuliano sacked as manager in early November.

Two first-half goals by midfielders Jurgen Bardhi and Gerhard Progni gave Partizani a priceless 2-1 away against first-time Albanian reigning champions Kukes who failed to preserve their early lead after being punished for defensive blunders.

An early penalty kick which Kukes later converted saw new Partizani coach, Albanian experienced coach Sulejman Starova, sent off with a red card for protests against the referee.

Starova, who has led Tirana-based Partizani for most of the time in the past couple of years, was on his second match as Partizani coach this season, replacing Mark Iuliano who claimed only three victories in nine championship games, proving a disaster for one of the most successful Albanian clubs who have been waiting for more than two decades for a comeback as Superliga champions.

A suggestion by former Juventus managing director Lucciano Moggi who has been an adviser to Partizani president Gazmend Demi since late April 2017, little experienced manager Iuliano failed to impress with the Reds and was immediately sacked after losing 1-0 to newly promoted Kamza in early November.

Eighty-year-old Italian transfer guru Moggi, who is suffering a lifetime ban from Italian football for his role in the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal has earlier announced he targets turning Partizani into “a little Juventus.”

“I am not an official with a say in Partizani’s decision-making, but an adviser to President Demi. As such, I have advised the president to create a ‘little Juventus’ which means doing what I achieved with that club, with Torino or Napoli, the establishment of a youth basis because a team cannot only rely on purchases, but also sales,” the 80-year-old has said in a TV interview.

Once the most successful Albanian club under communism, Partizani have won the national league 15 times, but have been trophyless since 1993.

With eleven games played, but 25 others to go, Partizani who finished second last year, rank 6th in the 10-team Albanian Superliga with 14 points so far, trailing leaders Skenderbeu by 13 points and having already received a major blow to their title hopes with the target now being a top three finish and the Albanian Cup which can secure participation in European competitions.

Meanwhile, Skenderbeu, Albania's most successful club of the past decade who are making their second UEFA Europa League appearance, seem unrivalled in the title race this season, with a seven-point lead over second-placed Vlora-based Flamurtari, which is the surprise team so far, and with bigger advantage over main rivals Kukes and Partizani.

Skenderbeu’s hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the UEFA Europa League received a major setback in early November as Albania’s most successful club of the past decade were beaten 2-0 by Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade in an away encounter held under tight security measures.

Skenderbeu will play at home against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv on Nov. 23 before concluding their group stage away to Switzerland’s Young Boys on December 7 in its final group stage matches.

Having suffered an embarrassing first-ever relegation last season, record 24-times Superliga champions led by Brazilian coach De Maria lead Group B of the First Division but with only a three-point advantage over second-placed Bylis who surprised them with a 1-0 away defeat in early November.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 14 - Albania beat Turkey 3-2 in a surprise away victory as the Red & Blacks played in 10 men for most of the time after playmaker Ledian Memushaj was sent off with a second yellow card just before the first half.

A double by Legia Warsaw striker Armando Sadiku gave Albania a comfortable first half lead, but down to 10 men from the 41st minute Albania suffered in the second half and had to defend almost all the time to curb Turkey’s numerical superiority.

Winger Eros Grezda was the national side's hero as he claimed his first national side goal to give 10-men Albania a temporary 3-1 lead before Turkey scored another goal to make it 3-2.

Right winger Odise Roshi was also decisive in the first half as he served striker Sadiku twice to increase his goal tally to 11.

The friendly was a test for the national side as it prepares for the Euro 2020 qualifiers having failed to make it to the World Cup finishing third in a tough group stage that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy.

Coach Christian Pannuci fielded five players in the 25 minutes with AEK Athens attacking midfielder Astrit Ajdarevic and defensive midfielder Kamar Qaka who plays in the Romanian top league, both of whom Kosovo-born players, making their Albania debut.

Speaking after the match, coach Pannuci who claimed his first victory against a tough opponent since take over Albania last July, said the team played a great match, especially in the second half when they were down to ten men.

"The way how we achieved the victory is more important than the victory itself. I am very happy for the way the guys are perceiving what I want," said Pannuci, a former AC Milan, Real Madrid defender whose Albania job is his first experience as a national side manager after serving as assistant to Fabio Capello, one of the greatest Italian coaches, when he led the Russian national side from 2012 to 2014.

Turkey, who also failed to make it to the World Cup, have been facing tough times under Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu, having won only one out of last six games since last August.
                    [post_title] => Ten-man Albania surprise Turkey with 3-2 away victory
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                    [post_content] => Tirana, Nov. 13 - Albania will play away to Turkey tonight in a friendly that is seen as a test for the national side and coach Christian Pannuci as the Red & Blacks prepare for their Euro 2020 bid.

The Turkey friendly is the first the national side is playing after concluding their World Cup qualifying campaign last October when the national side finished third in a tough group stage that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy.

Coach Pannuci has called up two new players for the friendly, bringing the number of new players joining the national side to six since he took over as Albania’s coach in mid-2017 and heralding a new era after the departure of his compatriot Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to a first ever major competition debut such as Euro 2016 during his five-year spell.

The 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience has called up two Kosovo born-players for the Turkey friendly, 27-year-old AEK Athens attacking midfielder Astrit Ajdarevic and 21-year-old defensive midfielder Ylber Ramadani who plays Vejle Boldklub in the Danish First Division.

Pannuci had earlier called up Emanuele Ndoj, a much promising Italy-born and raised 20-year-old central midfielder playing Brescia in Italy’s Serie B and Macedonia-born Valon Ahmedi, an attacking midfielder for Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful club, who are yet to make their Albania debut.

Spain-born defender of Albanian origin Ivan Balliu and Albania-born Italy-raised left back Hysen Memolla who plays for Croatia’s Hajduk Split made their unsuccessful national side debut last October against Spain when they were replaced from the beginning of the second half as Albania was thrashed 3-0 in 27 minutes.

"We will continue to look for new players to strengthen our team. We are working to have a solid group for the next European qualifiers," Pannuci has said.

Coach Christian Pannuci was set a Euro 2020 qualification task as he succeeded Italian compatriot Gianni De Biasi in mid-2017 and led the national side in their last four World Cup qualifiers.

Under his lead, Albania easily beat modest Liechtenstein, got a hard-earned draw against Macedonia, but was thrashed 3-0 by group leaders Spain and narrowly lost 1-0 in the final home qualifier with Italy to finish third in the Group G of the qualifiers.

Two of Albania's best players, Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj and Legia Warsaw striker Armando Sadiku have described the friendly with Turkey as a fixture that helps the team to get consolidated and the newcomers to familiarize.

Turkey, who also failed to make it to the World Cup, have been facing tough times under Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu, having won only one out of last five games since last August.

Albania and Turkey have played each other three times before with Albania winning one friendly away to Turkey in 2001 and Turkey claiming two World Cup qualifier victories in 2005.

The Turkey friendly is one of the few Albania can play ahead of the late 2018 maiden UEFA Nations League and the European qualifiers.

Albania has been lined up in League C of the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

In a four-league competition based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the European football’s governing body has placed Albania in League C mostly featuring South-East Europe national sides with Serbia and Greece as the toughest sides.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania play Turkey in friendly test ahead of Nations League, Euro 2020 qualifiers 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 2 - Skenderbeu's hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the UEFA Europa League received a major setback on Thursday night as Albania's most successful club of the past decade were beaten 2-0 by Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade in an away encounter held under tight security measures.

The loss in Belgrade leaves Skenderbeu bottom in Group B with 2 points, trailing third-placed Swiss Young Boys by 1 point and Partizan Belgrade by 3 points. Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv beat Young Boys 1-0 in an away victory that mathematically secured their knockout stage qualification with a five-point lead over now second-placed Partizan Belgrade.

With two other games to go, qualification hopes for Skenderbeu who face difficult encounters against the Ukrainians and the Swiss in their final group stage matches, are quite slim and only two victories could see the Albanian club progress to the next round as the second best Group B team.

Having held Partizan Belgrade to a goalless draw at home in the first leg tie, Skenderbeu paid dear for their defensive mistakes, especially in the second goal when two of its best player, captain and goalkeeper Orges Shehi and midfielder Sabien Lilaj provided an assist for the Partizani striker following a misunderstanding.

The same to the Albania encounter, away fans were banned to attend the game on security grounds in UEFA-proposed measured following a drone incident at the Belgrade stadium in late 2014 in a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier, leading to the game’s suspension.

The match was played under tight security with heavy police presence cited as a concern with a psychological effect on Skenderbeu’s performance.

"There was no problem during the match, but when you see so much police presence, that is not the appropriate environment for a football match," said Skenderbeu’s coach Ilir Daja.

Local media reported there were also racist chants by Partizani supporters, which could trigger possible punishment by European football’s governing body, UEFA.

In last month’s first-leg encounter, Skenderbeu were fined €60,000 by UEFA over illicit chants, fireworks and racist behaviour and also ordered to play their next Europa League home game behind closed doors.

Skenderbeu will play at home against Dynamo Kyiv on Nov. 23 before concluding their group stage away to Switzerland's Young Boys on December 7.

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, making history as the only Albanian club to have made it in the final stage of European competitions.
                    [post_title] => Skenderbeu’s Europa League hopes suffer blow after Partizan Belgrade defeat
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                    [post_date] => 2017-10-20 11:28:17
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Oct. 20 – Skenderbeu were held to a goalless draw on Thursday night by Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade in a tough home encounter for the Europa League group stage where Serbian fans were banned to support their team on security grounds.

Albania’s sole Europa League representatives played as equal against an opponent with much more history in European competitions to claim another priceless point and keep alive their knockout stage qualification hopes.  Skenderbeu captain, 40-year-old goalkeeper Orges Shehi, was again decisive for the Snow Wolves as he made some perfect late saves that could have otherwise punished Albania’s most successful club of the past decade.

With three other games to go, Skenderbeu who currently rank bottom in Group B of the Europa League group stage can still hope for a top two finish as they are currently level on points with Partizan Belgrade and trail second-placed Swiss Young Boys by only one point.

Ukrainian Dynamo Kyiv who were held to a 2-2 home draw by Young Boys on Thursday night are the group favorites for a direct qualification to the knockout stage with a comfortable four-point lead over the Swiss side.

No Serbian fans were allowed to support Partizani Belgrade for the first-leg encounter in Albania as both clubs agreed to a request by European football’s governing body, UEFA, to avoid possible crowd incidents which in this specific encounter could also be triggered by a nationalist background. The same away fan ban will also apply for the next group stage Skenderbeu will play in Belgrade on November 2.

A late 2014 incident in a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier when a drone with nationalist Albanian symbols was flown at the Belgrade stadium triggered violence and led to the game’s suspension.

The drone’s alleged mastermind, Albanian fan Ismail Ballist Morina has been detained in Croatia on behalf of Serbian authorities and Croatia’s Supreme Court has already ruled in favour of his extradition, but it will be the Croatian justice minister and asylum application procedures that will decide his fate. Italy-based 35-year-old Ballist Morina, dubbed as a hero by Red & Black ‘ultra’ fans fears he will not be handed a fair trial in Serbia and has asked for protection.

Partizan Belgrade coach Miroslav Djukic said he was pleased with the result and the hospitality they found in Albania.

"There was no problem, on the pitch it was a very tough match and I have the best impressions. We are happy for the hospitality and we would like to show the same hospitality in Belgrade but with a different result," said the Serbia coach.

“The group stage teams are more or less equal and the upcoming fixture will be decisive for next stage,” he told Albanian reporters.

Albanian coach Ilir Daja said he was pleased with the draw against a tough opponent and considering the fact that the team was forced to make a compulsory replacement of a key player such as Croatian center back Marko Radas who has been playing with Skenderbeu for the last six seasons.

"It was a match which in addition to the direct fight on the pitch, there was also emotional tension and the players didn't have the required calmness," said Daja.

"We played with dignity against a tough opponent. We did well on everything except for not scoring and not claiming the first victory," he added.

Skenderbeu progressed to the 2017 UEFA Europa League group stage as they beat Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in the qualifying campaign play-offs. The ‘Snow Wolves’ earlier beat Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav, Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty and modest Andorran side Sant Julia in the first three Europa League qualifying rounds.

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, making history as the only Albanian club to have made it in the final stage of European competitions.

The Korça-based club named after Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg have also made a good start in the Albanian Superliga and are favorites to win this year’s title.

 
                    [post_title] => Albania’s Skenderbeu held to goalless draw in smooth fixture with Partizan Belgrade
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 16 – Juventus’s Argentinian forward Paulo Dybala, regarded as the most decent Lionel Messi successor, has missed two penalty kicks in the past two weeks in Italy's Serie A and it was Albanian goalkeepers in both cases who saved them.

Albanian international goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha turned a hero for Lazio last weekend as he saved an injury time Dybala penalty kick to earn Lazio a priceless 2-1 away win against Juventus and keep their Serie A title hopes alive.

Earlier on October 1, it was Atalanta’s Albanian goalkeepers Etrit Berisha, the regular starter for the Albanian national side, who denied Dybala a winner as Atalanta came from behind to draw 2-2 against Juventus.

The saves made by Albanian goalkeepers have also attracted attention of Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, one of Italy's most successful Italian managers, who has handed Dybala an apparent ban to take any further penalty kicks against Albanian keepers.

Asked if the Juventus star will be allowed to take new penalty kicks, Allegri half-jokingly said "no, if the goalkeeper is Albanian, yes, if he is from another national side."

"Football is strange, we hit the bar and the post, we are not doing well for the moment and it's now time to reorganize ourselves," Allegri said after the season's first defeat against Lazio.

Commenting on his save, the Lazio goalkeeper Strakosha said he had studied the Dybala penalty kicks and managed to save it also with God’s help.

"I was so upset when Juventus were awarded a penalty kick as it was the 94th minute and they didn't deserve the draw," he added.

Strakosha who has been a regular starter with Lazio since making his debut in Sept. 2016 is now regarded as one Lazio's strengths.  The 22-year-old keeper has only conceded 10 goals in the first eight Serie A, being one of the best so far.

With eight games played, Lazio rank fourth in Serie A, level on points with third placed Juventus who hold an advantage thanks to their better goal difference, and trail leaders Napoli by 5 points.

Thomas Strakosha is now the only Albanian player with Lazio after the departure of national side’s goalkeeper Etrit Berisha and former Albanian captain Lorik Cana. Former Albanian international Igli Tare has been serving as Lazio’s sporting director since he quit professional football with Lazio in 2008.

Although having made only four appearances with the national side, Strakosha is on track to follow in his father's footsteps, former Albanian international Foto Strakosha who was the national side's keeper for 15 years until 2005.

Goalkeeper Etrit Berisha is also having a good personal season with Atalanta although the club looks far away from last season's performance when they finished fourth to earn a Europa League spot. He also received special praise for saving Paulo Dybala’s penalty kick on Oct. 1 to give Atalanta a precious point in this season’s poor start.

The Kosovo-born goalkeeper who grew up as professional player in Sweden was decisive for Atalanta last season as he moved on loan from Lazio and has been a regular starter for Albania in the past five years.

Asked about his save, Berisha said "it was so great as Dybala had missed no penalty kick in Serie A, but the most important thing for us was to get a point from a team that has been dominating Italian football for years," added Berisha.

Albanian international fullback Elseid Hysaj is also having a perfect season start with Napoli who lead the Serie A on full points from the first eight matches. The 23-year-old defender has been a regular starter with Napoli since joining in 2015 and 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.

He is the best-paid Albanian player earning about €1 million a season and Napoli have put a €50 million release clause on his new 5-year contract.

Three other Albanian internationals play in Italy's Serie A with Ledian Memushaj and Berat Djimsiti for newly promoted Serie A club Benevento and center back Arlind Ajeti for Crotone.

The final World Cup qualifier against Italy which Albania narrowly lost 1-0 few days ago was considered a ‘local derby’ due to half a million Albanians living in Italy and the popularity the neighboring country across the Adriatic enjoys in Albania. A considerable number of the Albanian internationals grew up as professional players in Italy.
                    [post_title] => Juventus star handed ‘ban’ to take penalty kicks against Albanian keepers after missing twice 
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                    [post_content] => league 2TIRANA, Oct. 12 - Albania has been lined up in League C of the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

In a four-league competition based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the European football's governing body has placed Albania in League C mostly featuring South-East Europe national sides with Serbia and Greece as the toughest sides. Serbia managed to directly qualify for the 2018 World Cup while Greece earned a play-off opportunity.

Previous games between Albania and Serbia have proved problematic, triggering ethnic tensions.

A late 2014 incident in a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier when a drone with nationalist Albanian symbols was flown at the Belgrade stadium triggered violence and led to the game’s suspension.

The drone’s alleged mastermind, Albanian fan Ismail Ballist Morina has been detained in Croatia on behalf of Serbian authorities and Croatia’s Supreme Court has already ruled in favour of his extradition, but it will be the Croatian justice minister and asylum application procedures that will decide his fate. Italy-based 35-year-old Ballist Morina, dubbed as a hero by Red & Black ‘ultra’ fans fears he will not be handed a fair trial in Serbia and has asked for protection.

Rivalry with Greece is also tough even in football considering some unsettled disputes between the two countries, but previous games with the neighbouring country, host to about half a million Albanian migrants, have gone smooth. In their last encounters as part of the 2006 World Cup qualification campaign, Albania beat then-reigning surprise European champions Greece 2-1 and lost 2-0 in the away qualifier.

The 15 League C contestants will be split into one group of three and three groups of four. The four group winners are promoted to League B, with the four sides that finish bottom relegated to League D for the 2020 edition.

The UEFA Nations League will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament, with four sides qualifying through play-off matches which take place in March 2020.

The top four-ranked League C teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

Chances for Albania and other contenders to make it EURO 2020 in case of failing to qualify directly as the top two group stage teams in the qualification campaign, are only through the National League tournament as the third-placed team is no longer provided a play-off opportunity.

Chances increase as if a UEFA Nations League group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league.

Albania claimed a first-ever direct qualification in the EURO 2020 qualification campaign, finishing second in a tough group stage that also featured reigning European champions Portugal as well as Denmark and Serbia.

In the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign, Albanian finished third in a group stage it could not do much against former world champions Spain and Italy.

Albania's coach Christian Pannuci has been set a Euro 2020 qualification task as he succeeded Italian compatriot Gianni De Biasi in mid-2017 and led the national side in its last four World Cup qualifiers.

Under his lead, Albania easily beat modest Liechtenstein, got a hard-earned draw against Macedonia, but was thrashed 3-0 by group leaders Spain and narrowly lost 1-0 in the final home qualifier with Italy to finish third in the Group G of the qualifiers.

Featuring 55 European national sides divided into four leagues, the UEFA Nations League group games will be held over six matchdays, during the 'double-headers' in September, October and November 2018.

The last four EURO places will be won through the European Qualifiers play-offs, which will take place in March 2020 and which will be contested by the 16 UEFA Nations League group winners.

The League Phase Draw for the UEFA Nations League will take place in Switzerland on 24 January 2018.

Arguing that friendly internationals are not providing adequate sporting competition, European football’s governing body says its maiden Nations League creates more meaningful and competitive matches for teams and a dedicated calendar and structure for national team football.

“For middle-ranking and smaller nations, the UEFA Nations League will offer an extra way to qualify for UEFA EURO final tournaments while lower-tier countries – the bottom 16 in the rankings – are now guaranteed one of the 24 qualifying slots for UEFA EURO,” UEFA says.

While the UEFA Nations League will replace most friendly internationals, there will still be space in the calendar for friendlies, especially for top teams who may want to face opposition from outside Europe as they will be in groups of three teams.

However, many fans, players and pundits have expressed some confusion over the idea, particularly as it will run alongside qualifying for the 2020 European Championship.

 

UEFA Nations League sections

League A: Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, France, England, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Croatia, Netherlands

League B: Austria, Wales, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey

League C: Hungary, Romania, Scotland, Slovenia, Greece, Serbia, Albania, Norway, Montenegro, Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania

League D: Azerbaijan, FYR Macedonia, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra, Kosovo, San Marino, Gibraltar
                    [post_title] => Albania lined up in tough rivalry division with Serbia, Greece for maiden UEFA Nations League
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 11 - One of Albania's most successful football clubs is heading for privatization after a failed six-year spell as a wholly local government-owned club.

Northern Albania Shkodra-based Vllaznia club managed by the local Shkodra municipality has announced it is looking for a consultant that will evaluate the club’s assets and prepare the documentation for an action to sell the club’s shares, likely to take place in early 2018.

The privatization process comes at a time when the club’s financial situation has been sharply deteriorating and Vllaznia, one of the elite clubs of Albania’s top flight football have not been competitive in the past few years and during the last season hardly managed to escape what would have been their first ever relegation in their 87-year history.

The situation remains critical even this year when Vllaznia find themselves in the relegation zone and trail leaders Skenderbeu by 19 points in the first 14 games of the Albanian Superliga.

Vllaznia are also almost out of the Albanian Cup competition after losing their first-leg game 2-0 against Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club which is playing in the First Division for the first time this season. Tirana were demoted last season in a final championship decider against Vllaznia which escaped relegation following a goalless draw.

Vllaznia’s privatization also comes amid anger and protests by local fans against the club’s critical situation and reports that players are unmotivated due to the municipality failing to pay them in time as a result of problems with accumulated debts.

"We wouldn’t like the municipality of Shkodra to be sole owner in the football club, but have as many shareholders as possible," Shkodra Mayor Voltana Ademi has earlier said.

"We will continue to support Vllaznia until the privatization is carried out. That is an institutional, political but also personal will of mine of supporting the club until it falls into private hands,” she has said.

According to a document published on the Shkodra municipality's website, the club's losses were at an average of 51 million lek (€380,000) annually from 2011 to 2015 when the municipality was the sole owner of Vllaznia following the withdrawal of its private sponsors and shareholders.

The assets of the club which has won nine championship titles and six Albanian Cups were estimated at 258 million lek (about €2 million) in 2015, but that does not include its renovated stadium.

Shkodra's 16,000-seat ‘Loro Borici’ stadium was renovated in 2016 and also  hosts the national side's home matches and those of neighboring Kosovo which has yet to build a stadium meeting international standards after it was admitted as a FIFA and UEFA member in 2016 and played its first World Cup qualifying campaign.

The municipality of Shkodra, the largest local government unit in northern Albania, says annual losses Vllaznia incurs have seriously hampered local public finances and expects the club's privatization to strip Shkodra taxpayers of financing a company with huge losses and make a concrete investment with its sale revenues.

Albania’s top flight clubs are partly local investor and mostly municipal-owned.

The country’s Superliga clubs have made huge progress in the past few years with Skenderbeu making it to the Europa League group stage twice in the past three years, but failing to progress to the knockout stage.

However, only few Albanian Superliga players are called up for the national side which failed to make it to the 2018 World Cup after a debut appearance in France’s Euro 2016.
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