UEFA concerned over inspectors’ death threats in Skenderbeu investigation

UEFA concerned over inspectors’ death threats in Skenderbeu investigation

European football’s governing body says its disciplinary inspectors involved in Skenderbeu’s investigation have received anonymous death threats, presumably intended to intimidate them and stop them carrying out their work. “These threats will not succeed and the police have also been

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Albania’s sole Europa League contenders face 10-year ban threat over match-fixing

Albania’s sole Europa League contenders face 10-year ban threat over match-fixing

TIRANA, Feb. 16 – Albania’s most successful club of the past decade, Skenderbeu, risk facing a ten-year ban from European competition as part of an ongoing investigation into match-fixing allegations by European football’s governing body, UEFA. The new probe comes

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Incumbent president re-elected for fifth consecutive term as head of Albania’s football

Incumbent president re-elected for fifth consecutive term as head of Albania’s football

TIRANA, Feb. 7 – Armand Duka has been reelected as the president of Albania’s football association, getting a fifth consecutive four-year term at the helm of the country’s most important sports organization. In a voting session held on Wednesday at

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Two Italy-based skiers represent Albania at South Korea’s Winter Olympics

Two Italy-based skiers represent Albania at South Korea’s Winter Olympics

TIRANA, Feb. 6 – Two Italy-based skiers will represent Albania in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea’s Pyeongchang in the country’s fourth consecutive appearance at the Winter Olympics. Erjon Tola and Suela Mehilli will both compete in alpine

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Albania international joins Spain’s Levante in surprise move

Albania international joins Spain’s Levante in surprise move

TIRANA, Jan. 31 – Albania’s best striker of the moment, Armando Sadiku, has been transferred to Levante in the Spanish top league in a surprise move following a lukewarm six-month spell with Poland’s reigning champions Legia Warsaw. The 26-year-old Albanian

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Albania drawn against Scotland, Israel in inaugural UEFA Nations League

Albania drawn against Scotland, Israel in inaugural UEFA Nations League

TIRANA, Jan. 24 – Albania have been drawn against Scotland and Israel in 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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Albanian lifter set for world bronze medal after Romanian rival fails doping test

Albanian lifter set for world bronze medal after Romanian rival fails doping test

TIRANA, Jan. 24 – Albania’s Erkand Qerimaj is on track to get a bronze medal in the men’s 77 kg after a Romanian weightlifter who finished third in snatch has been temporarily suspended over failing a doping test. The news

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Albanian gold medalist weightlifter suspended for a second time over doping

Albanian gold medalist weightlifter suspended for a second time over doping

TIRANA, Jan. 17 – Albania’s weightlifting has been hit by a new doping scandal, the second in the past three years, marring the reputation of one of Albania’s traditionally best performing sports on international stage. Romela Begaj, who last December

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Former Albania prime minister challenges incumbent football president’s 16-year reign

Former Albania prime minister challenges incumbent football president’s 16-year reign

TIRANA, Jan. 12 – Former Socialist Party Prime Minister Bashkim Fino has unveiled his much-rumored and expected candidacy to take over as the new head of Albania’s football association, challenging incumbent president Armand Duka who is seeking a fifth consecutive

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Kukes hire experienced Austrian coach to defend Albanian Superliga title

Kukes hire experienced Austrian coach to defend Albanian Superliga title

TIRANA, Jan. 10 – Albania’s defending champions Kukes have hired an experienced Austrian coach following their poor start this season as they trail leaders Skenderbeu by 12 points. Peter Pacult, a former striker who has trained teams in Austria and

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                    [post_content] => European football’s governing body says its disciplinary inspectors involved in Skenderbeu’s investigation have received anonymous death threats, presumably intended to intimidate them and stop them carrying out their work.

"These threats will not succeed and the police have also been informed. UEFA remains fully committed to the fight against match-fixing and all UEFA staff working on these crucial matters can count on the full support of the organization," UEFA said in a statement.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin also confirmed support to inspectors.

"We will never allow UEFA staff working on these matters, or any other matters, to be subject to threats or intimidation from any third parties. They have the full backing of the organization, including 100 percent personal support from me," Ceferin said.

The European football's governing body says additional information obtained via UEFA's Betting Fraud Detection System “now suggests a far greater pattern of involvement by KF Skënderbeu in match-fixing.”

Reacting to UEFA’s statement, Ardjan Takaj, Skenderbeu's football club president, denied any allegations linking the club to the inspectors' death threats saying the "history of our club and the nature of the city we represent is our biggest guarantee."

"We encourage law enforcement agencies to bring the real perpetrators of this incident before justice," said Takaj, the owner of a 75 percent majority stake in Skenderbeu.

The Skenderbeu president says the probe into Skenderbeu was initiated by “companies who want to justify the millions they get from UEFA" and the “anti-Skenderbeu clan in Albania,” implying Brussels-based Federbet gaming anti-corruption organization and opponents in the Albanian Superliga.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 16 – Albania’s most successful club of the past decade, Skenderbeu, risk facing a ten-year ban from European competition as part of an ongoing investigation into match-fixing allegations by European football’s governing body, UEFA.

The new probe comes after Skenderbeu were already handed a one-year ban from European competition for the 2016-2017 campaign on match-fixing allegations.

UEFA's ethics and disciplinary inspectors are now seeking a ten-year ban from the Champions League and Europa League campaigns for Skenderbeu as well a €1 million fine, in what would be one of the harshest punishments in European history.

Back in 2010, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a UEFA eight-year Europe-wide ban on Macedonian club FC Pobeda for match-fixing over a single 2004 Champions League tie with an Armenian club.

Emilio Garcia, the head of the UEFA disciplinary and integrity unit, had earlier warned the one-year ban for Skenderbeu was only a 'preliminary ban and that the UEFA disciplinary bodies were considering real disciplinary measures."

“The numbers don’t lie and the betting patterns don’t lie,” the UEFA lawyer had warned.

UEFA banned Skenderbeu over match fixing allegations in two Champions League qualifiers and two Europa League group-stage games in 2015. The European football’s governing body suspects Skenderbeu who have dominated Albanian football in the past six years could have also been involved in fixing around 50 domestic matches since 2011.

“The case affirms the reliability of UEFA’s betting fraud detection system in identifying abnormal betting patterns on matches played by the Albanian club at European and domestic levels,” UEFA said in mid-2016 after the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld its one-year ban.

Reacting to the new UEFA probe, Skenderbeu said the new proceedings were an appeal by UEFA inspectors to a decision made two years ago on Skenderbeu and not a new case against the club.

"This is an ongoing disciplinary case on which no hearing session has yet been set. Skenderbeu have already been aware of these charges by the disciplinary inspectors and we are confident the case will successfully conclude,” the club said in a statement.

Back in mid-2017, Albania's football association also stripped Skenderbeu of their 2015-2016 Superliga title over UEFA’s match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five.

Skenderbeu have appealed the decision with the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The Korça-based club are the only Albanian club to have made it to the UEFA Europa League group stage, with two appearances in the past three years.

Skenderbeu are favourites to win this year's domestic Superliga title with a comfortable 11-point lead over second placed Flamurtari.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135698" align="alignright" width="300"]Armand Duka was re-elected as head of Albania's football association for a fifth four-year term Armand Duka was re-elected as head of Albania's football association for a fifth four-year term[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 7 - Armand Duka has been reelected as the president of Albania’s football association, getting a fifth consecutive four-year term at the helm of the country’s most important sports organization.

In a voting session held on Wednesday at a seaside hotel in the city of Durres, 55-year-old incumbent president Duka beat main rival Bashkim Fino, a former Prime Minister and current ruling Socialist Party MP, by 38 votes to 24.

The winner was decided in a run-off vote after none of the initial three candidates managed to get the qualified majority of 2/3 of votes by the 66 delegates.

Shpetim Hala, a sports journalist and former referee in inferior Italian football leagues, managed to get no votes at all.

Speaking after his re-election Duka said the elections held by the football association’s General Assembly met standards.

"I am happy and excited not because of the fact that I will be the president, but because of the reliability and I feel deeply obliged that something more difficult awaits me starting today," Duka said.

The 55-year incumbent president and businessman with stakes in several food and electronic equipment companies has been in office as the president of Albania’s most popular sport since 2002 and managed to get easily re-elected although having no prior sports background.

His main rival Bashkim Fino described the process as irregular and warned he would take legal action in Albania, the European and world football governing bodies UEFA and FIFA and even address Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

A former short-term consensual Prime Minister during the country's 1997 turmoil, Fino strongly opposed the participation of 12 sports associations which he called ‘ghost organizations’ in the voting process, claiming they were unregistered with local courts.

"We will take this issue to the end, for the football's own good. We will respect Albanian courts and then address not only the Court of Arbitration for Sport but also FIFA," says Fino, a 55-year-old veteran politician.

Albanian international and club football has progressed in the past few years as the national side made a first ever appearance at a major competition and Skenderbeu made it twice to the UEFA Europa League group stage although it was banned for one year from international football on match fixing allegations in the 2016-2017 season and had its 2016 Superliga title lifted.

After its debut Euro 2016 appearance, Albania failed to make it to the Russia 2018 World Cup finishing third in tough qualifying group stage with Spain and Italy.

New coach Christian Panucci, the successor of Gianni De Biasi, has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target following his good start with the national side since taking over in mid-2017.
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                    [post_date] => 2018-02-06 15:47:17
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 6 – Two Italy-based skiers will represent Albania in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea's Pyeongchang in the country's fourth consecutive appearance at the Winter Olympics.

Erjon Tola and Suela Mehilli will both compete in alpine skiing, the only discipline Albania has contested since the 2006 debut appearance.

Suela Mehilli, who in 2014 became the first female athlete from any sport to represent Albania at the Sochi Winter Olympics, will be this year's flag bearer for Albania.

"This will be the second Olympic Games for me. I am so proud of representing Albania worldwide and this will be special experience for me," Mehilli, a 24-year-old skier said as she was handed the Albania flag by Ilir Meta, the country’s president, at a ceremony last weekend.

Mehilli has been living in Italy since she was three years old when she moved from Albania. She trains in Cuneo, a Piedmont region province in northwestern Italy bordering France.

Meanwhile, Erjon Tola who in 2006 became the first ever Albanian athlete to represent Albania at the Winter Olympics, will be making his fourth consecutive appearance in alpine skiing.

The 31-year-old Albanian skier also began skiing in Italy when he was six after his family moved from Albania to Italy.

Viron Bezhani, the president of the Albanian National Olympic Committee said the special thing about this year's participation is that both Albanian athletes qualified for the Winter Olympics and didn't need any invitations.

Both athletes were awarded Olympic scholarships by the Albanian National Olympic Committee to help with expenses in the run-up to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Albania lacks proper professional ski facilities and has no early tradition in Winter Olympic disciplines, although some mountain areas have a huge potential to develop ski resorts.

Scheduled to take place from February 9 to 25, the 2018 Winter Olympics will feature 102 events in 15 sport disciplines, making it the first Winter Games to surpass 100 medal events.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135600" align="alignright" width="300"]sadiku 2 Levante welcomed Sadiku with a poster reading Miresevini, the Albanian word for Welcome. "Armando Sadiku is a new player of #LevanteUD. The Albanian player comes from Legia Warsaw!" Levante wrote on social media[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 31 – Albania’s best striker of the moment, Armando Sadiku, has been transferred to Levante in the Spanish top league in a surprise move following a lukewarm six-month spell with Poland’s reigning champions Legia Warsaw.

The 26-year-old Albanian international has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with the Spanish top league club for a reported transfer fee of about €1 million.

Sadiku is one of the reinforcements Levante has made in the January transfer window as the Valencia-based club is struggling just above the relegation zone and remaining in the La Liga is its top priority.

In addition to competition with Spain forward Ivi Lopez, Sadiku will also face competition from Italian Giampaolo Pazzini, the new Levante signing from Verona football club.

Sadiku will join Enis Bardhi, an ethnic Albanian who represents Macedonia internationally, at Levante, becoming the sole Albanian international to play in what is considered one of the world’s toughest leagues.

Rey Manaj is another Albanian international who plays in Spain's second division with Granada.

The Levante move is a turning point for Sadiku who has already joined the club's training and could make his debut this weekend as the Valencia-based club host giants Real Madrid who have been playing one of their worst seasons.

His transfer comes after only six months with Legia Warsaw and a six-year spell in Switzerland.

Sadiku, who was recently being used as a second-half substitute in Poland played 24 games for Legia since joining last July but scored only seven goals, four of which in the Polish Cup, one in the Champions League qualifying campaign and only two in 17 Polish league appearances.

The 26-year-old striker has scored 11 goals in 29 appearances with the national side helping Albania achieve a first-ever qualification in a major tournament such as Euro 2016. He also scored Albania’s sole goal in the Euro 2016 group stage games as Albania beat Romania 1-0 but failed to make it the knockout stage.

In last November’s friendly away to Turkey, Armando Sadiku scored a double to help 10-man Albania claim a surprise victory and increase his goal tally to 11. Last June, he also scored a brace as Albania avenged Israel’s first-leg home defeat with a 3-0 away victory.

Having started his career in his hometown of Elbasan, central Albania, Sadiku played in Switzerland for six years with clubs such as Zurich and Lugano before joining Legia Warsaw in July 2017.

Albania who were recently drawn against Scotland and Israel in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, will play Norway in a friendly on March 26.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 24 – Albania have been drawn against Scotland and Israel in 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.

Having been previously lined up in League C, Albania was drawn in Group 1, the only one featuring three teams, with the remaining three league groups showcasing four teams.

Scotland, a team which Albania has never faced before is the toughest team in the group, with a lot of experience in World Cup and European tournaments, currently 32nd in the FIFA world rankings, but having failed to reach a major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

Israel, a team which Albania first faced in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, finished fourth in the group stage last September, trailing third-placed Albania by one point as both sides got 3-0 away victories in their two-legged encounters.  Both Albania and Israel played in a tough qualifying campaign that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy, the latter failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades after losing a play-off with Sweden.

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, Greece and Bulgaria as the toughest sides that Albania could face for the League C winner and a place in the Euro 2020 in case it tops its own Group 1.

Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci described the group as balanced, saying he would have preferred a four-team group.

"That is a very balanced group with three tough teams. It's a group with three teams that allows you to make fewer mistakes. We will rival for the first place," said Panucci.

A former AC Milan, Real Madrid defender whose Albania job is his first experience as a national side manager, Panucci has been in charge since mid-2017, succeeding compatriot Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to a first ever appearance at a major tournament such as the Euro 2016.

"We have a team that can lead the group and we will play to the end. In order to secure qualification, all you have to do is win the matches. It is not important how many opponents we will be playing with, we will play an offensive and courageous football," Panucci said.

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. Albania, who was drawn in three-team group, will only play four matches against Scotland and Israel.

The UEFA Nations League will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament, with four sides from each league 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.

Last November, Albania beat Turkey 3-2 in a surprise away victory as the Red & Blacks played in 10 men for most of the time in the fifth match under coach Panucci who has been set a Euro 2020 qualification task.

The Euro 2020 qualifying campaign is scheduled to begin in March 2019 after ten groups are drawn in December 2018.

Albania will play Norway in a friendly on March 26, but coach Panucci says the national side staff is also negotiating to play two teams who have qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.
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                    [post_date] => 2018-01-24 15:56:50
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 24 - Albania's Erkand Qerimaj is on track to get a bronze medal in the men's 77 kg after a Romanian weightlifter who finished third in snatch has been temporarily suspended over failing a doping test.

The news comes as a relief for Albanian weightlifting which has been hit by a new doping scandal after Romela Begaj tested positive, with the International Weightlifting Federation provisionally suspending her and stripping her of the medals she claimed in late 2017 at the IWF World championships in the U.S.

Begaj, who last December became Albania’s first ever world champion in women’s weightlifting, tested positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance, which she also failed in a 2014, leading to a two-year ban. If confirmed positive in the B sample, the Albanian weightlifter risks facing a four-year ban and could also be banned for life, experts say.

The doping scandal, the second for Begaj in the past three years led to the resignation of the president of Albania's Weightlifting Federation and Albania losing its right to host the 2018 Senior European Weightlifting Championships originally scheduled to take place in Tirana next March.

“Unfortunately the Executive Board of the Albanian Weightlifting Federation resigned because of a doping problem and the Albanian federation cannot organize the next Senior EWC at the end of March,” the EWF said in a statement, adding that it is looking for a new host country.

Erkand Qerimaj who lifted 155 kg in snatch finishing fourth is now heading for a bronze medal after Romanian weightlifter Dumitru Captari, the original bronze medal winner with 156 kg, tested positive for a banned substance.

Qerimaj finished sixth overall with a total of 342 kg after poor performance in the clean & jerk where he came ninth lifting 187 kg.

"That is very good news not only for me but all Albanians," said Qerimaj, adding that both his blood and urine tests were clean.

The 27-year-old failed a doping test in 2012. Initially given a two-year ban, he returned to competition in July 2013 but was stripped of the gold medal he had won at the 2012 European Championships in Antalya, Turkey.

Albanian weightlifters have tested positive for doping ten times since 2011, marring the reputation of Albania’s traditionally 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.
                    [post_title] => Albanian lifter set for world bronze medal after Romanian rival fails doping test 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 17 - Albania's weightlifting has been hit by a new doping scandal, the second in the past three years, marring the reputation of one of Albania's traditionally best performing sports on international stage.

Romela Begaj, who last December became Albania's first ever world champion in women's weightlifting has failed a doping test, provisionally suspending her and stripping her of the medals she won at the late 2017 IWF World championships in the U.S..

The 31-year-old athlete has tested positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance, which she also failed in a 2014, leading to a two-year ban. If confirmed positive in the B sample, the Albanian weightlifter risks facing a four-year ban and could also be banned for life, experts say.

Gazmend Hackani, Romela Begaj's coach and husband, claims his wife has used no banned substance and is optimistic the B sample will prove it.

Competing in the women’s 69 kg, Begaj 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.

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. Two other Albanian male weightlifters were suspended for using banned substances at that time.

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.
                    [post_title] => Albanian gold medalist weightlifter suspended for a second time over doping
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                    [post_date] => 2018-01-12 12:17:33
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135334" align="alignright" width="300"]Ruling Socialist Party MP and former Prime Minister, Bashkim Fino Ruling Socialist Party MP and former Prime Minister, Bashkim Fino[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 12 – Former Socialist Party Prime Minister Bashkim Fino has unveiled his much-rumored and expected candidacy to take over as the new head of Albania’s football association, challenging incumbent president Armand Duka who is seeking a fifth consecutive four-year term in next February’s elections.

Speaking in an interview with Albania’s public broadcaster, RTSH, on Thursday night, the experienced left-wing politician said he accepted the challenge in a bid to change Albanian football and its image.

Fino says the first thing he wants to change is the football image and will fight for fair play and bring back fans to stadiums.

"I think it is time to make a change in Albanian football and give it a new image," Fino has said, admitting that beating Duka will be tough due to the short time at his disposal and his long tenure at the helm of Albanian football.

The 55-year-old Socialist Party lawmaker served as the mayor of Gjirokastra in the early 1990s soon after the collapse of the country's communist regime and a short-term consensual Prime Minister of the country during the 1997 turmoil triggered by the collapse of some pyramid investment schemes. He is known for his passion for football and is often seen on stadiums attending matches.

Asked if his candidacy could lead to political interference, Fino said there is no barrier preventing him from the legal point of view and that he is not going to give up his MP mandate ahead of the race.

"I am an experienced politician. I have graduated in finance. I was a mayor, a prime minister. I am an MP and a member of the legal affairs committee. From the legal point of view, nothing prevents me from running. The Albanian Football Association is a non-profit NGO and there is no barrier. Politically speaking, I am nobody. I am somebody who wants to serve football. If I am voted on February, I will only dedicate myself to football," Fino said.

The politician also says he will propose limiting the football association president's terms of office to two from a current unlimited number.

Duka's challenger says he will initiate legal action against eight regional associations with a right to vote in next February’s elections but not registered with the country's courts yet.

In the February 7 elections, the president will be elected by 66-member General Assembly composed of presidents of elite and lower division clubs as well as 12 sports associations, of which eight regional ones. A second round with a simple majority is held in case any of the candidates fails to get the initial qualified majority 2/3 of the votes, some 44 votes.

 

Duka’s fifth consecutive bid

[caption id="attachment_135335" align="alignright" width="300"]Incumbent head of Albania's football association, Armand Duka Incumbent head of Albania's football association, Armand Duka[/caption]

Incumbent president Armand Duka has said he decided to run for another mandate despite question marks over his long tenure and another person with new energy being given the opportunity to take over.

"It's not that I haven't thought about that but considering that there are no other alternatives that would take football forward, and considering that the relationship I have shaped with the community to develop this organization is positive and the experience we have had together can help Albanian football, that was what led me to make this positive decision,” Duka has said.

Speaking about Fino's candidacy, Duka said the he would like to see his opponent stripped of his party functions as an organizing secretary.

"I would like to see that as an initiative of Bashkim Fino and his friends supporting him and not as an initiative of the Socialist Party organizing secretary," he says.

"The rising popularity of football among children, youngsters, women, the results of the national side with the major target of qualifying for the Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, the clubs' international achievements, the football policies and the guaranteed future give me confidence that we will decide for a better Albanian football," Duka said after announcing his candidacy.

The 55-year incumbent president has been in office as the president of Albania’s most popular sport since 2002 and managed to get easily re-elected for three other consecutive terms although having no prior sports background.

Duka is a successful Albanian businessman in several sectors including egg production, retail trade and until late 2017 in the sole-Albanian-owned mobile telephony that ceased its operations after it was acquired by the two largest operators. He has a 50-50 partnership with his brother, politician Agron Duka, a former MP and agriculture minister.

In his bio published on the Football Association’s portal, Duka says he has achieved his target of taking Albania to a first-ever major competition such as Euro 2016 and managed to build two stadiums meeting international standards in the cities of Elbasan and Shkodra while the National Arena stadium, a public private partnership project of the Albanian government, is already under construction.

The race is expected to be tough and decided by a small margin, which is also hinted by Fino’s reluctance to give up his MP mandate ahead of the race.

The challenge also risks getting politicized, something which could trigger penalties by European football governing body, UEFA, considering the political profile of Duka's rival and possible government influence on local government-run clubs.

Albanian international and club football has progressed in the past few years as the national side made a first ever appearance at a major competition and Skenderbeu made it twice to the UEFA Europa League group stage although it was banned for one year from international football on match fixing allegations in the 2016-2017 season and had its 2016 Superliga title lifted.

After its debut Euro 2016, Albania failed to make it to the Russia 2018 World Cup finishing third in tough qualifying group stage with Spain and Italy.

New coach Christian Panucci, the successor of Gianni De Biasi, has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target following his good start with the national side since taking over in mid-2017.
                    [post_title] => Former Albania prime minister challenges incumbent football president’s 16-year reign
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135290" align="alignright" width="300"]pacult Austrian coach Peter Pacult. Photo: FK Kukes[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 10 - Albania's defending champions Kukes have hired an experienced Austrian coach following their poor start this season as they trail leaders Skenderbeu by 12 points.

Peter Pacult, a former striker who has trained teams in Austria and Germany, Slovenia and Croatia top leagues joined the Albanian debut champions in the first days of January after the north-east Albania club sacked Serbian coach Mladen Milinković following two humiliating losses.

The 58-year-old former Rapid Wien and Leipzig coach has been training the team in Turkey where he surprised two Turkish top league teams, Kayserispor and Bursaspor, with 2-1 victories in preparatory friendlies ahead of the Superliga resumption on January 20 following the winter break.

"My target is to make Kukes play good football and achieve the expected results at the end of the season. We have another 20 golden games and the important thing is to achieve success with the help of the sporting director and the team. I like offensive football and will fight to apply it" Pacult told a press conference last week in Tirana.

Kukes have collected only 25 points in their first 16 games of this season, ranking fourth and trailing leaders Skenderbeu by 12 points.

The defending champions have made two reinforcement so far in the January transfer window, hiring Kosovo playmaker Donjet Shkodra from Skenderbeu and Georgian midfielder Irakli Dzaria from the Georgian championship.

The north-eastern based club with not much history in the top flight of Albanian football made history last year as they claimed their first-ever Superliga title in a season which saw the relegation of Tirana, the 24-times record Superliga champions.

Kukes also put an end to the six-year domination of Skenderbeu, the only Albanian club to have made it to the UEFA Europa League group stage, with two appearances in the 2015 and 2017 seasons.
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            [post_content] => European football’s governing body says its disciplinary inspectors involved in Skenderbeu’s investigation have received anonymous death threats, presumably intended to intimidate them and stop them carrying out their work.

"These threats will not succeed and the police have also been informed. UEFA remains fully committed to the fight against match-fixing and all UEFA staff working on these crucial matters can count on the full support of the organization," UEFA said in a statement.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin also confirmed support to inspectors.

"We will never allow UEFA staff working on these matters, or any other matters, to be subject to threats or intimidation from any third parties. They have the full backing of the organization, including 100 percent personal support from me," Ceferin said.

The European football's governing body says additional information obtained via UEFA's Betting Fraud Detection System “now suggests a far greater pattern of involvement by KF Skënderbeu in match-fixing.”

Reacting to UEFA’s statement, Ardjan Takaj, Skenderbeu's football club president, denied any allegations linking the club to the inspectors' death threats saying the "history of our club and the nature of the city we represent is our biggest guarantee."

"We encourage law enforcement agencies to bring the real perpetrators of this incident before justice," said Takaj, the owner of a 75 percent majority stake in Skenderbeu.

The Skenderbeu president says the probe into Skenderbeu was initiated by “companies who want to justify the millions they get from UEFA" and the “anti-Skenderbeu clan in Albania,” implying Brussels-based Federbet gaming anti-corruption organization and opponents in the Albanian Superliga.
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