Albania’s Skenderbeu one step away from repeating Europa League history

Albania’s Skenderbeu one step away from repeating Europa League history

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Aug. 18 – Albania’s Skenderbeu are only one step away from repeating history in the UEFA Europa League after being held to a dramatic draw by Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in the first-leg away fixture of the

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Italian Moggi targets turning Albania’s Partizani into ‘little Juventus’

Italian Moggi targets turning Albania’s Partizani into ‘little Juventus’

TIRANA, Aug. 8 – Tirana-based Partizani have hired an Italian coach and several new players, including Albanian international striker Edgar Çani in a bid to make a decades-long comeback as Albania Superliga champions after finishing second in the past two

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Albania’s Skenderbeu progress to Europa League play-offs

Albania’s Skenderbeu progress to Europa League play-offs

TIRANA, Aug. 4 – Skenderbeu progressed to the UEFA Europa League play-offs on Thursday night as they eliminated Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in a penalty shootout after extra time finished 2-1, making it  3-3 on aggregate. Skenderbeu, who lost the

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Albania’s Skenderbeu progress to third Europa League qualifying round

Albania’s Skenderbeu progress to third Europa League qualifying round

TIRANA, July 21 – Skenderbeu progressed to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League after beating Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty 3-1 on aggregate, remaining the sole Albanian club in European competition after all Kukes, Partizani and Tirana were disqualified

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Euro 2020 qualification target set for new Albania coach

Euro 2020 qualification target set for new Albania coach

TIRANA, July 19 – Italian Christian Pannuci has been officially introduced as the new Albania coach, replacing Gianni De Biasi in a tough bid to make another surprise Euro qualification as hopes for a World Cup qualification are almost over.

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Christian Pannuci set to become Albania’s new coach

Christian Pannuci set to become Albania’s new coach

TIRANA, July 18 – Italian Christian Pannuci is expected to take over as the new Albania coach, replacing compatriot Gianni De Biasi, who led the Albania national side for the past five and a half years. Although not yet official,

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Sadiku leaves Switzerland to move to Legia Warsaw

Sadiku leaves Switzerland to move to Legia Warsaw

TIRANA, July 13 – Albania’s Armando Sadiku has moved to Legia Warsaw on a three-year contract with one of Poland’s most successful clubs, abandoning Switzerland where he played for the past six years with several top flight clubs. The transfer

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Gumball 3000 luxury sports cars parade in Tirana

Gumball 3000 luxury sports cars parade in Tirana

TIRANA, July 6 – More than 100 luxury sports cars paraded in Tirana this week in a stop as part of a Riga-Mykonos Gumball 3000 rally, in a comeback a decade after their inaugural 2007 Albania trip. Famous Dutch DJ

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Albania complains over inappropriate stadium for away Macedonia qualifier

Albania complains over inappropriate stadium for away Macedonia qualifier

TIRANA, July 3 – Albania’s Football Association says that due to security concerns, Europe’s football governing body, UEFA, has decided the upcoming Macedonia-Albania World Cup qualifier will be played in a small stadium “not meeting international standards.” UEFA has decided

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Skenderbeu remain Albania’s sole club likely to progress to next Europa League stage

Skenderbeu remain Albania’s sole club likely to progress to next Europa League stage

TIRANA, June 30 – Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club to win in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League qualification campaign on Thursday as Partizani and Tirana suffered defeats making their progress to the next stage an almost

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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Aug. 18 - Albania's Skenderbeu are only one step away from repeating history in the UEFA Europa League after being held to a dramatic draw by Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb in the first-leg away fixture of the play-off tie.

Skenderbeu were really unlucky on Thursday night's encounter as they were initially denied a legitimate goal for an offside by Liridon Latifi before the Kosovo playmaker gave Skenderbeu the lead in the 37th minute.

When everything seemed to end in Skenderbeu's favour, the Croatians with much more experience in European competition, scored an injury-time equalizer after dominating the game’s second half.

Skenderbeu will now have to wait for the second-leg August 24 home encounter with Dinamo Zagreb to learn if they will repeat history by making a second appearance at the Europa League group stage.

The second-leg play-off is also a chance for Skenderbeu to avenge Dinamo Zagreb who denied them a historic Champions League debut in the 2015-2016 qualifying campaigns.

The Croatian side beat Skenderbeu 6-2 on aggregate in the 2015 Champions League play-off, but Skenderbeu were still able to automatically make it to the less prestigious Europa League group stage.

Skenderbeu coach Ilir Daja described the draw as a big step for the ‘Snow Wolves.’

"That was a great result for us, you will see another Skenderbeu in the second-leg qualifier in Elbasan, we expect huge support from fans," said Daja.

Dinamo Zagreb coach Mario Cvitanović said the Croatians "will go to Albania to win and do their best to achieve it."

Croatia's most successful club, Dinamo Zagreb beat Skenderbeu 4-1 at home before also wining 2-1 in Albania in the 2015 Champions League play-off.

Skenderbeu progressed to the UEFA Europa League play-offs as they eliminated Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in a penalty shootout. They earlier beat Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty and modest Andorran side Sant Julia in the first and second 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.

Last June, Albania’s football association also stripped the ‘Snow Wolves’ of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The club have denied any wrongdoing.

Skenderbeu have been dominating Albanian football in the past decade which has recently become more competitive with minnows Kukes winning their first ever championship title in the past season and Partizani advised by former Juventus managing director Italian Lucciano Moggi and coach Mark Iuliano seeking a comeback in the upcoming season after more than two decades of trophyless seasons.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 8 - Tirana-based Partizani have hired an Italian coach and several new players, including Albanian international striker Edgar Çani in a bid to make a decades-long comeback as Albania Superliga champions after finishing second in the past two seasons.

Advised by former Juventus managing director Lucciano Moggi, Partizani president Gazmend Demi has hired former Juventus defender Mark Iuliano as the club’s new coach and transferred striker Edgar Çani from Pisa who were relegated from Serie B in the past season.

The changes come after Partizani were easily eliminated by Bulgaria’s Botev Plovdiv in the first Europa League round last month.

The former Juventus director who is suffering a lifetime ban from Italian football for his role in the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal, has also transferred Italian midfielder Giovanni la Camera, who has played for several Italian Serie B and third tier clubs.

Edgar Çani will team up in the Partizani attack with Xhevahir Sukaj, a powerful Albanian striker who returned to the Reds this season after a short unsuccessful spell in Malaysia.

Edgar Çani and Xhevahir Sukaj’s signings come after Italy-born Ghanaian striker Caleb Ekuban left Partizani to move to Leeds United in the English Football League Championship. Ekuban was Partizani’s top scorer in the past season with 17 goals.

"I came to win the championship title, I was convinced by the club's project. I didn't think twice. Moggi had a great impact on this transfer, I have also talked a lot with Iuliano and promise the fans the trophy and many goals,” Edgar Çani, the 28-year-old striker who grew up as a player in Italy told reporters at a press conference this week.

Lucciano Moggi, the former Italian transfer guru, says he targets turning Partizani into "a little Juventus."

"I am not an official with a say in Partizani's decision-making, but an advisor 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.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133490" align="alignright" width="300"]Skenderbeu supporters Skenderbeu supporters[/caption]

TIRANA, Aug. 4 - Skenderbeu progressed to the UEFA Europa League play-offs on Thursday night as they eliminated Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in a penalty shootout after extra time finished 2-1, making it  3-3 on aggregate.

Skenderbeu, who lost the first leg away match 2-1, came from behind to score two second half goals with a penalty converted by midfielder Sabien Lilaj and a late extra-time winner by Sebino Plaku.

Goalkeeper Orges Shehi, the "Snow Wolves" captain, was the penalty shootout hero as he converted the opening penalty and saved Mlada's fourth spot kick, sealing Skenderbeu's progress from the third qualifying round.

Skenderbeu could now face Ajax, Turkey's Fenerbahçe, Bulgaria's Ludogorets, Belarusian Bate Borisov, Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb or Israel's Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the play off ties scheduled for August 17 to 24.

Skenderbeu has a chance to make history again by progressing to the group stage of the Europa League after their 2015-2016 debut.

Skenderbeu progressed to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League after beating Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty 3-1 on aggregate, remaining the sole Albanian club in European competition after all Kukes, Partizani and Tirana were disqualified in their first round campaigns. In the first qualifying round, Skenderbeu easily beat modest Andorran side Sant Julia 6-0 on aggregate.

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.

Last June, Albania’s football association also stripped the ‘Snow Wolves’ of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The club have denied any wrongdoing.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 21 - Skenderbeu progressed to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League after beating Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty 3-1 on aggregate, remaining the sole Albanian club in European competition after all Kukes, Partizani and Tirana were disqualified in their first round campaigns.

Skenderbeu, who beat Kairat 2-0 in their second leg home fixture, will now face Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in the third qualifying round of the Europa League.

The Korça-based club, who have dominated Albanian football in the past decade, need to beat the Czechs and pass another play-off round in order to make another Europa League group stage appearance.

In the first qualifying round, Skenderbeu easily beat modest Andorran side Sant Julia 6-0 on aggregate.

In this year’s UEFA Europa league campaign, Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club that was 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 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.

Last month, Albania's football association also stripped the ‘Snow Wolves’ of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The club have denied any wrongdoing.

Earlier this week, Albania’s debut champions Kukes were unlucky to progress to the next Champions League qualifying round, despite winning their home match. Kukes beat Moldova's Sheriff 2-1 in the second leg home match, but were disqualified because of the Moldovans’ away goal after losing 1-0 in the first leg.

Kukes, who won their first Superliga title this year, were unlucky as they missed a penalty kick and even hit the post in injury time to score a qualifying goal.

Partizani and Tirana were easily beaten in their first qualifying Europa League rounds by Bulgarian and Israeli sides.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133290" align="alignright" width="300"]pannuci 2 Christian Pannuci signs a contract in Tirana. Photo: Albanian Football Associatiion[/caption]

TIRANA, July 19 - Italian Christian Pannuci has been officially introduced as the new Albania coach, replacing Gianni De Biasi in a tough bid to make another surprise Euro qualification as hopes for a World Cup qualification are almost over.

Speaking at a press conference in Tirana on Wednesday, the former 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender said he wanted to follow in De Biasi’s footsteps.

"De Biasi has done an extraordinary job. He has made history for Albania, but now we will start something new and I will try to do something important here," said Pannuci.

De Biasi led Albania for the past five and half years, becoming Albania’s most successful coach after managing to take the national side to a first ever appearance to a major competition such as the Euro 2016. He unexpected resigned last June following an impressive 3-0 away victory with Israel in a World Cup qualifier, overcoming a shameful five-game losing streak the national side had not experienced in more than a decade.

"The goal is to make it to the Euro 2020, it's the sole big target we have. This is what we have to do, I am convinced we have the right team to make it,” said Pannuci.

The 44-year old has little experience as a manager, but his young age and modest financial criteria seem to have led to a deal. Pannuci’s managerial experience started in 2012 when he served as assistant to Fabio Capello, one of the greatest Italian coaches, when he was leading the Russian national side. Pannuci also managed Serie B sides Livorno, Ternana in the past couple of years.

"It was quite easy for me as being Albania's coach is really prestigious and an important opportunity,” said Pannuci.

The Italian, who has signed a 48-month contract will reportedly earn about €20,000 a month, half of what De Biasi was paid in the past couple of years.

Albania’s Football Association President Armand Duka said he was confident Pannuci is the right manager for Albania.

"We made the best decision, we picked one of the world's greatest players who has huge experience as a player, but maybe modest in coaching," said Duka

"We have made a very good choice. For me, he is a man with a great will and desire. I am convinced that together we can make it to the Euro 2020,” he added.

The Albanian national side was also considering Italians Paolo Di Canio, Giancarlo Camolese, Filippo Inzaghi, Alberto Malesani, Valter Zenga and Dutch Clarence Seedorf for the post.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133271" align="alignright" width="300"]Christian Pannuci. Photo; Wikipedia  Christian Pannuci. Photo; Wikipedia[/caption]

TIRANA, July 18 - Italian Christian Pannuci is expected to take over as the new Albania coach, replacing compatriot Gianni De Biasi, who led the Albania national side for the past five and a half years.

Although not yet official, Italian and Albanian sports media have unveiled the 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender seems to have convinced the Albanian football association as a decent successor to De Biasi, Albania's most successful coach who managed to take the national side to a first ever appearance to a major competition such as the Euro 2016.

The 44-year old is expected to sign this week a two-and-a-half years contract with the national side, with the Euro 2020 qualification set as a key condition for a possible contract extension.

The Italian has little experience as a manager, but his young age and modest financial criteria seem to have led to a deal.

Pannuci’s managerial experience started in 2012 when he served as assistant to Fabio Capello, one of the greatest Italian coaches, when he was leading the Russian national side. Pannuci also managed Serie B sides Livorno, Ternana in the past couple of years.

The Albanian national side was also considering Italians Paolo Di Canio, Giancarlo Camolese, Filippo Inzaghi and Dutch Clarence Seedorf for the post.

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.

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] => TIRANA, July 13 - Albania's Armando Sadiku has moved to Legia Warsaw on a three-year contract with one of Poland's most successful clubs, abandoning Switzerland where he played for the past six years with several top flight clubs.

The transfer was completed this week for an undisclosed amount after Sadiku passed medical tests, becoming the first Albanian to play for Legia Wasaw, the club that has been dominating Polish football for the past five years.

The last Albanian international to play in Poland was Bekim Balaj, who played for Jagiellonia in the 2013-2014 season on loan from Sparta Prague, scoring seven goals. The 26-year-old striker currently plays for Akhmat Grozny in the Russian Premier League.

"I am happy I have signed with such a great club. This is a good step in my career. I hope we will qualify for the Champions League group stage," Sadiku has told the club's portal.

"I am ready to help the team, start training and do my best. I want to win every possible trophy, but I am not sure if this also includes the Champions League," joked Sadiku.

The 27-year old Albanian international striker had been recently playing for Lugano and Vaduz on loan from Zurich, being one of top scorers in the Swizz championship.

He 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.

Sadiku is expected to be a key reinforcement for Legia Warsaw who are playing in the Champions League qualification campaign.

Former Albanian international Besnik Hasi served as Legia Warsaw coach for a short spell last year.

A powerful striker, Sadiku has been one of the toughest points of the Albanian national side in the past couple of years, scoring some decisive goals that helped Albania secure a debut appearance in a major competition such as Euro 2016.

Sadiku was Albania's hero in last June's away World Cup qualifier with Israel, scoring a double from two long-range shots.

He has scored nine goals with the national side, including one in the first-ever European championship appearance against Romania at the Euro 2016 group stage.

Sadiku, who started his career in his hometown of Elbasan, central Albania, had been playing in Switzerland since 2011.
                    [post_title] => Sadiku leaves Switzerland to move to Legia Warsaw 
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                    [post_date] => 2017-07-06 09:27:09
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 6 - More than 100 luxury sports cars paraded in Tirana this week in a stop as part of a Riga-Mykonos Gumball 3000 rally, in a comeback a decade after their inaugural 2007 Albania trip.

Famous Dutch DJ Afrojack, one of the big names participating in this year’s week-long rally, also performed in Tirana’s central boulevard where a crowd of car enthusiasts had gathered to watch the luxury Gumaball 3000 brands, a mix of classic, super, hyper and unique cars.

The Gumball 3000 is an annual British motor rally that combines cars, music, fashion and entertainment. This year's tour started in Riga, to continue in Warsaw and Krakow, before touring Budapest and Dubrovnik, Porto Montenegro, Tirana, and concluding in Greece with parades in Volos, Athens and Mykonos on July 8.

“A hidden gem, Albania plays home to some of the most stunning driving routes and backdrops in Europe and changed a lot since our last outing in 2007,” says the Gumball 3000 team about the Albania stop.

 

 

 
                    [post_title] => Gumball 3000 luxury sports cars parade in Tirana 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_129231" align="alignright" width="300"]Albania celebrate after beating Macedonia 2-1  with a late header in their opening World Cup qualifier (Sept. 2016) Albania celebrate after beating Macedonia 2-1 with a late header in their opening World Cup qualifier (Sept. 2016)[/caption]

TIRANA, July 3 - Albania's Football Association says that due to security concerns, Europe’s football governing body, UEFA, has decided the upcoming Macedonia-Albania World Cup qualifier will be played in a small stadium "not meeting international standards."

UEFA has decided the September 5 qualifier between the two neighboring countries will be played in Mladost Stadium in Strumica town, east of the country close to Macedonia's border with Bulgaria, and not in capital city Skopje, apparently to avoid any possible fan conflict considering the sizeable presence of the ethnic Albanian population in Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a third of the 2 million population in Macedonia, where ethnic tensions are still present.

The Albanian football association describes the 6,500-seat stadium renovated more than a decade ago as not suitable to handle a World Cup qualifier. The small capacity stadium would also limit the presence of Albanian fans to only a few hundreds considering limits for away supporters.

"Under the circumstances of a delicate match, UEFA set up its own inspection team to watch to Strumica stadium, a sports complex that does not meet any of the international standards for an official qualifier,” the Albanian Football Association said in statement after complaining to UEFA.

“In their later confirmation and after a working group inspection, UEFA decided on security grounds that next September's Macedonia-Albania will be played in the Strumica stadium and not in Skopje, arguing that the Strumica stadium provides much more security for fans compared to National Arena Filip II of Macedonia,” the association added.

The small number of fans will be a barrier for Albania in the September second leg qualifier.

Macedonia has proved tough on home soil in the World Cup qualification campaign with Italy needing an injury time goal to make it 3-2 and Spain narrowly winning 2-1.

Albania also needed a late header by Bekim Balaj to win 2-1 in their opening World Cup qualification campaign against Macedonia in Sept. 2016. The home victory came as the qualifier was initially abandoned at a 1-1 draw due to torrential rain and the game's remaining 14 minutes at the Shkodra stadium were played the next day.

Albania played their opening World Cup qualification campaign in the newly reconstructed 16,000-seat Loro Boriçi stadium in Shkodra in a match with no crowd problems. The qualifier was also a small ‘Albanian derby’ as Macedonia had called up four ethnic Albanian players while Albania featured one Macedonia-born ethnic Albania player.

Albania's World Cup campaign received a boost last June after the national side beat Israel 3-0 in an away qualifier to avenger the first-leg home defeat.

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 national side now faces the issue of finding a new coach who will replace Italian Gianni De Biasi after his unexpected resignation following the Israel victory. The 61-year-old Italian led Albania for the past five and a half years including a historic first-ever appearance at a major tournament such as Euro 2016.

Albania's football association, which has been examining several Italian coaches to find De Biasi's successor, says it will decide on the new coach within this month.

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.
                    [post_title] => Albania complains over inappropriate stadium for away Macedonia qualifier 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 30 - Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club to win in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League qualification campaign on Thursday as Partizani and Tirana suffered defeats making their progress to the next stage an almost mission impossible.

Midfielder Liridon Latifi was Skenderbeu's hero in the narrow 1-0 home win against Andorra’s modest Sant Julia. The Kosovo-born 23-year-old playmaker converted a spectacular second-half free kick minutes after he missed a penalty kick. The Albanian international is now a key player for Skenderbeu after the departure of striker Hamdi Salihi who will likely play in Austria’s second division next season after spending two years with Skenderbeu when he was its top scorer.

Skenderbeu were lucky to play against a modest opponent, but squandered many scoring opportunities, leaving it all open for the second-leg on the July 6 fixture away to Andorra.

In the UEFA Europa league campaign, Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club that was 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.

The victory against the Andorran club came after Skenderbeu were recently stripped of their 2015-2016 Superliga title by Albania's Football Association on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five.

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.

Earlier on Thursday, Partizani suffered a humiliating home defeat against Bulgaria’s Botev Plovdiv who came from behind to win 3-1. It all started well for Partizani who took the lead with an early goal by Xhevahir Sukaj, but failed to resist growing pressure by the Bulgarians who scored three times, also taking advantage of some defensive blunders.

Partizani’s hopes of progressing to the next Europa League are almost over as they need to win by a three-goal advantage in the second leg fixture.

Partizani, who finished second in the past two seasons, are now hopeful they will be crowned Superliga champions after Skenderbeu was stripped of its Superliga title. The Reds have been trophyless for more than two decades.

Newly relegated Tirana, who were beaten 2-0 in their first-leg away fixture with Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv, also stand few chances of advancing to the next stage.

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 won the Albanian championship a record 24 times, became the first-ever relegated Albanian team to play at a European club competition.

Albania’s first-time Superliga winners, Kukes, will make their Champions League qualification campaign debut on July 12, in a tough away fixture against Sheriff, the club who has dominated Moldovan football in the past 16 years.
                    [post_title] => Skenderbeu remain Albania’s sole club likely to progress to next Europa League stage 
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            [post_date] => 2017-08-18 12:06:09
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            [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Aug. 18 - Albania's Skenderbeu are only one step away from repeating history in the UEFA Europa League after being held to a dramatic draw by Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb in the first-leg away fixture of the play-off tie.

Skenderbeu were really unlucky on Thursday night's encounter as they were initially denied a legitimate goal for an offside by Liridon Latifi before the Kosovo playmaker gave Skenderbeu the lead in the 37th minute.

When everything seemed to end in Skenderbeu's favour, the Croatians with much more experience in European competition, scored an injury-time equalizer after dominating the game’s second half.

Skenderbeu will now have to wait for the second-leg August 24 home encounter with Dinamo Zagreb to learn if they will repeat history by making a second appearance at the Europa League group stage.

The second-leg play-off is also a chance for Skenderbeu to avenge Dinamo Zagreb who denied them a historic Champions League debut in the 2015-2016 qualifying campaigns.

The Croatian side beat Skenderbeu 6-2 on aggregate in the 2015 Champions League play-off, but Skenderbeu were still able to automatically make it to the less prestigious Europa League group stage.

Skenderbeu coach Ilir Daja described the draw as a big step for the ‘Snow Wolves.’

"That was a great result for us, you will see another Skenderbeu in the second-leg qualifier in Elbasan, we expect huge support from fans," said Daja.

Dinamo Zagreb coach Mario Cvitanović said the Croatians "will go to Albania to win and do their best to achieve it."

Croatia's most successful club, Dinamo Zagreb beat Skenderbeu 4-1 at home before also wining 2-1 in Albania in the 2015 Champions League play-off.

Skenderbeu progressed to the UEFA Europa League play-offs as they eliminated Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in a penalty shootout. They earlier beat Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty and modest Andorran side Sant Julia in the first and second 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.

Last June, Albania’s football association also stripped the ‘Snow Wolves’ of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The club have denied any wrongdoing.

Skenderbeu have been dominating Albanian football in the past decade which has recently become more competitive with minnows Kukes winning their first ever championship title in the past season and Partizani advised by former Juventus managing director Italian Lucciano Moggi and coach Mark Iuliano seeking a comeback in the upcoming season after more than two decades of trophyless seasons.

 
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