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

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

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

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Minnows Kukes claim first Superliga title

Minnows Kukes claim first Superliga title

TIRANA, May 22 – Having played in the top flight of Albanian football for only the past five years, north-east Albania-based Kukes made history in the Albanian Superliga last weekend when they beat rivals Skenderbeu amid controversy to claim their

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Albanian Superliga: Three teams fight for title, sixth others to remain in top flight

Albanian Superliga: Three teams fight for title, sixth others to remain in top flight

TIRANA, May 16 – With only two other games to go, the Albanian Superliga is facing one of its toughest competition in decades with three teams fighting for the top league title and sixth others struggling to remain in the

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Shkelzen Gashi scores double to win Albanian MLS derby with Hyka

Shkelzen Gashi scores double to win Albanian MLS derby with Hyka

TIRANA, May 15 – Albania international Shkelzen Gashi scored a brace to help his Colorado Rapids get a much-needed victory following a poor start to beat the San Jose Earthquakes and their Albania international midfielder Jahmir Hyka in a small

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Skenderbeu back in the Superliga title race after injury time victory

Skenderbeu back in the Superliga title race after injury time victory

TIRANA, May 9 – Albania’s reigning champions Skenderbeu are back in the fight for this year’s Superliga title after a lucky injury time victory and leaders Kukes and Partizani held in a draw in what was considered a title decider

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Partizani host Kukes in Superliga title decider

Partizani host Kukes in Superliga title decider

TIRANA, May 4 – Partizani will host Kukes this weekend in a decisive fixture for the Superliga lead as the two teams are level on points with the northeastern Kukes holding an advantage on goal difference. With five other games

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Albania’s most successful club faces relegation threat

Albania’s most successful club faces relegation threat

TIRANA, May 1 – With no win in the past 14 matches, Albania’s historically most successful club, Tirana, are facing one of the most difficult seasons in their 100 years of existence as the only Albanian club not to have

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Albania fined €92,000 for fan incident in Italy qualifier

Albania fined €92,000 for fan incident in Italy qualifier

TIRANA, April 27 – The world football’s governing body, FIFA, has handed Albania a CHF 100,000 (€92,000) fine over unsporting conduct in last March’s World Cup qualifier with Italy, in what is considered light punishment for the national side which

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Albanian ‘twins’ help Lugano fight for a top spot in Swiss Super League

Albanian ‘twins’ help Lugano fight for a top spot in Swiss Super League

TIRANA, April 25 – A trio with a link to Albania are helping Switzerland’s Lugano fight for a place in the Europa League. Back in January 2017 just before Albania international Armando Sadiku and Albania’s assistant coach Paolo Tramezzani moved

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Albania international scores first MLS goal

Albania international scores first MLS goal

TIRANA, April 17 – Albanian international midfielder Jahmir Hyka turned a hero for San Jose Earthquakes at the U.S. Major League Soccer last weekend as he scored a stoppage time equalizer to give his Western Conference side a precious point

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 23 - Albania will play a friendly against modest Luxembourg on June 4 ahead of a key World Cup qualifier against Israel a week later in a bid to overcome one of its worst losing streaks in more than a decade.

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

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

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

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

Having played all five first round matches, Albania now see themselves rank fourth with only six points, trailing leaders Spain and Italy by seven points and lagging behind three points third-placed Israel, who now remain Albania’s sole rival in their fight for a third place in group G of the World Cup qualifiers.

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

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

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

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

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

The Albanian national side will travel to Israel on June 11 and play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.

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

"We beat Macedonia and Albania on the road and third place is our real target," Israeli coach Elisha Levy has said.
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                    [post_content] => kukesTIRANA, May 22 - Having played in the top flight of Albanian football for only the past five years, north-east Albania-based Kukes made history in the Albanian Superliga last weekend when they beat rivals Skenderbeu amid controversy to claim their first championship in their penultimate game.

Kukes beat 9-men Skenderbeu 2-0 with a brace by Croatian striker Pero Pejic, the Superliga top scorer with 28 goals, amid refereeing controversy as Enea Jorgji, an Albanian FIFA international referee, came under fire, with sixth straight champions Skenderbeu accusing him of ruling in favour of Kukes after denying them a penalty kick when Skenderbeu was down to 10 men and Kukes were leading 1-0 thanks to a generous penalty.

With Skenderbeu in 9-men for about 30 minutes, it was Pero Pejic again who sealed the result with an injury time goal to give Kukes a four-point lead over second-placed Partizani and Skenderbeu and make history for Kukes, with not much history in Albanian football, but having finished second three times in their past five years of playing in the Superliga.

The victory also put an end to Skenderbeu’s domination of Albania football after the south-east Albania-based club won the Albanian Superliga for six consecutive years, also making history as the first Albanian club to have made it to the group stage of a major European competition such as the UEFA Europa League in 2015 although their success was somehow overshadowed by a UEFA decision imposing a one-year ban from European competition against the Albanian champions on match-fixing allegations.

Kukes had been dominating much of this season remaining the only unbeaten team, but faced tough competition by reigning champions Skenderbeu and 15-times champions Partizani seeking a comeback after more than two decades of trophyless seasons.

With a final game yet to go, two big names in Albanian football, 24-times record Superliga champions Tirana and 9-times winners Vllaznia face the relegation threat. Tirana, who have played one of their worst seasons, desperately need to win against Vllania in their final Superliga encounter to save themselves the shame of a first ever relegation in about a century of history, but could also make it with a draw if Teuta holds Laçi to a draw.

The Albanian Cup final with six-time consecutive Superliga champions Skenderbeu at the end of May is the only consolation to Tirana fans this season.

Last year's champions Skenderbeu will play home to Partizani on Saturday, May 27 in a decisive encounter for the second best team as the two clubs are currently level on points with Partizani holding an advantage on direct games and goal difference.

 

  
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                    [post_date] => 2017-05-16 11:08:40
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                    [post_content] => SuperligaTIRANA, May 16 - With only two other games to go, the Albanian Superliga is facing one of its toughest competition in decades with three teams fighting for the top league title and sixth others struggling to remain in the top flight, including Tirana, the country's historically most successful club.

North-east Albania-based Kukes with not much history in Albania’s Superliga but finishing second four times in their past five years in the country’s top league seem advantaged for a first-ever Superliga win as they hold a 1 point lead over second-placed reigning champions Skenderbeu and are four points ahead of Partizani who lost pace with the leaders after being held to a draw last Monday.

Kukes, who easily beat the now relegated Korabi with a hat trick by Croatian striker Pero Pejic, the Superliga top scorer with 26 goals, are the only team to remain unbeaten in 34 matches. Their decisive test will be next Saturday, May 20, when they host Skenderbeu, the sixth straight Superliga champions who are back in the Superliga title fight following seven wins in a row.

The reigning champions narrowly beat Tirana 1-0 with a late penalty kick converted by Hamdi Salihi, the much-travelled former Albania international who has been Skenderbeu's top scorer in the past couple of years since joining the “Snow Wolves” in 2015 following spells in Austria, the U.S. and Israel.

The loss to the reigning champions further complicated Tirana's chances to remain in the top flight as the record 24 times Superliga champions are currently in the relegation zone and will face two remaining decisive fixtures against Luftetari and Vllaznia to save themselves from the shame of a first ever relegation in about a century of history. The Albanian Cup final with six-time consecutive reigning Superliga champions Skenderbeu at the end of May is the only consolation to Tirana fans this season.

Tirana-based Partizani seeking a decades-long comeback as Superliga champions Partizani was held to a 1-1 draw by Flamurtari on Monday, running their Superliga dream as they trail leaders Kukes by four points now with only two other games to go.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 15 - Albania international Shkelzen Gashi scored a brace to help his Colorado Rapids get a much-needed victory following a poor start to beat the San Jose Earthquakes and their Albania international midfielder Jahmir Hyka in a small derby of Albanian roots at the U.S. Major League Soccer.

The 28-year-old forward, who was the Rapids key player last year, had yet to find the net until last weekend when he scored his first two goals of the season for the Rapids in their 3-0 home victory against the Earthquakes following five consecutive losses that have seen last year’s second best regular season Western Conference club rank bottom so far this year..

The Switzerland-born striker of Kosovo roots Albania international who has not been called up by coach De Biasi in the national side's past three qualifier played a full 90 minutes against Jahmir Hyka, the new Earthquakes signing who has already scored twice since joining last February. The 29-Albanian playmaker who has been a regular starter this season, was replaced in the second half as the Quakes were down 3-0.

“I was happy I could play 90 minutes, that was cool, but obviously you wish you win the game. Unlucky, unlucky, we need to stay positive. We need and we want to win the next home game,” Gashi said as quoted by the Denver Post.

The Rapids top 2016 scorer with nine goals including one voted MLS goal of the year and another that kept their season alive in a playoff series with Los Angeles, has missed three games and was a late substitute in two others due to Achilles injury this season.

“In this past game Gashi was a catalyst for what we did going forward, breaking lines with our passing taking guys on, switching the point of attack,” said Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni.

Jahmir Hyka is also making a perfect Major League Soccer debut with the Quakes, having played in all 11 matches and scoring twice, including a stoppage time equalizer.

Hyka, who started his career in his hometown of Tirana before playing in Norwegian, Greek, German and Swiss top leagues, is also a regular with Albania’s national team, having scored twice in 43 caps and with a key contribution to Albania’s debut at a major competition such as the Euro 2016.

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

The Albanian national side has been facing some tough time in their World Cup qualifying bid following their first ever appearance at a major tournament such as the Euro 2016.

Having played all five first round matches, Albania now see themselves rank fourth with only six points, trailing leaders Spain and Italy by seven points and lagging behind three points third-placed Israel, who now remain Albania’s sole rival in the fight for a third place in group G of the World Cup qualifiers.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 9 - Albania's reigning champions Skenderbeu are back in the fight for this year's Superliga title after a lucky injury time victory and leaders Kukes and Partizani held in a draw in what was considered a title decider last weekend.

The sixth straight Superliga champions were losing 3-2 until injury time when two goals by Gjergj Muzaka and a penalty converted by Liridon Latifi gave the south-eastern club which has dominated Albanian football in the past decade a much needed victory to narrow Kukes and Partizani’s lead to a single point.

A needless amateur handball by Vllaznia's Montenegrin defender just before the final whistle in the fifth minute of extra time cost his dismissal from Vllaznia, also raising match-fixing allegations.

Meanwhile, Partizani were held to a 1-1 draw by Kukes who continue to lead the Superliga thanks to their goal difference advanatage.

The leaders' fixture was key for both Tirana-based Partizani seeking a decades-long comeback as Superliga champions and equally important for north-east Albania-based Kukes with not much history in Albania’s Superliga but finishing second four times in their past five years in the country’s top league.

Albania's most successful club, 24 times Superliga winners Tirana further complicated their ranking in what has been the worst season in decades with a 2-0 away loss to Flamurtari and are now in the relegation zone fight with second bottom Laçi.

With four other games to go three clubs, Kukes, Partizani and Skenderbeu are now in the race for the Superliga title with the winner playing in the UEFA Champions League preliminary, and the runners-up and top third and Albanian Cup winner making it to UEFA Europa League play-off.
                    [post_title] => Skenderbeu back in the Superliga title race after injury time victory 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 4 - Partizani will host Kukes this weekend in a decisive fixture for the Superliga lead as the two teams are level on points with the northeastern Kukes holding an advantage on goal difference.

With five other games to go, the leaders’ fixture, considered a title decider, has been preceded with tension with the football association hiring a trio of foreign referees to avoid controversy and bias against Albanian referees.

The game, scheduled for Friday night, May 5, is important for both Tirana-based Partizani seeking a decades-long comeback as Superliga champions and equally important for north-east Albania-based Kukes with not much history in Albania's Superliga but finishing second four times in their past five years in the country's top league.

The atmosphere among Partizani is optimistic after they beat Tirana in last weekend's derby to keep pace with leaders Kukes.

"We will play to win but we also need God's help and luck. We have asked for a trio of foreign referees so that the match is as fair as possible and this also benefits the Albanian championship," says Edmond Haxhija, the Partizani sporting director.

Kukes's Croatian striker Pero Pejic, the Superliga’s top scorer with 22 goals, says even a draw would be perfect for Kukes who remain the championship's sole unbeaten team so far this season.

"It is a very tough encounter as the two teams are level on points. The important thing for us is not losing. If we win, that would be perfect, but we would also be happy with a draw as we don't lose the lead. We are prepared for a tactical match," Pejic has told reporters.

In case of draw between Partizani and Kukes, it would be the reigning champions Skenderbeu, the sixth straight Superliga winners, who host fifth-placed Vllaznia who would benefit in case of a home win, narrowing Kukes and Partizani's lead to one point.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132210" align="alignright" width="300"]Tirana fans Tirana fans[/caption]

TIRANA, May 1 - With no win in the past 14 matches, Albania's historically most successful club, Tirana, are facing one of the most difficult seasons in their 100 years of existence as the only Albanian club not to have been relegated from the top league.

Albania's record 24-times Superliga winners were beaten last weekend in a derby by their arch rivals Partizani for the second time this season, further complicating their position, just off the relegation zone.

With five other games to go, Tirana rank 8th in the 10-team Albanian Superliga, on par with Flamurtari and only 3 points ahead of second bottom Laçi.

The "White and Blues" now face a do-or-die fixture with Flamurtari next Saturday, May 6, to escape the relegation nightmare.

Tirana, who dominated Albanian football until 2009 when they last won a championship, have been facing financial problems this season with the world’s football governing body, FIFA, banning the Albanian club from the winter transfer window in punishment for debts to players.

The tough situation the team has been through this season and a decision by the club’s owners to allow arch rivals Partizani play their home matches at Tirana’s stadium, has also irritated "Tirona Fanatics," the club’s strongest supporters, who have been boycotting the club’s matches since last March.

[caption id="attachment_132211" align="alignright" width="300"]Superliga ranking Superliga ranking[/caption]

Protesting after the defeat with Partizani last weekend, ‘Tirona Fanatics’ fans called on Tirana President Refik Halili to step down, gathered in front of his house.

Halili, a traditional sponsor of Tirana, is the owner of a 66 percent stake in Tirana, the rest being owned by the municipality of Tirana.

The Albanian Cup final with six-time consecutive reigning Superliga champions Skenderbeu at the end of May is the only consolation to Tirana fans this season when their arch rivals Partizani seem on track for a comeback.

Partizani, who have been trophyless since the early 1990s, will host Kukes on Friday, May 6, in an apparent title decider as the two teams are on par with north-eastern-based Kukes seeking their first title, holding an advantage on better goal difference as they remain unbeaten for this season.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 27 - The world football's governing body, FIFA, has handed Albania a CHF 100,000 (€92,000) fine over unsporting conduct in last March's World Cup qualifier with Italy, in what is considered light punishment for the national side which also risked playing one or two matches behind closed doors.

"Albania has been fined CHF 100,000 for a series of incidents during the match Italy vs Albania, including the use of pyrotechnics by the Albania fans which led to the suspension of the match for several minutes. Italy has been fined CHF 15,000 for incidents that occurred during the same match," said FIFA's disciplinary committee.

Albania had also been fined by FIFA in three previous World Cup qualifiers for fan incidents.

Last March's away qualifier in Palermo was suspended for several minutes as a group of Albanian fans threw flares on the pitch as Albania was down 2-0.

Albania suffered its third consecutive World Cup qualifier defeat against Italy, having previously lost to Spain and Israel.

The Italy qualifier was seen as the last chance for Albania to remain in race for a top two finish and a possible play-off opportunity for Russia 2018, although mathematically Albania can still make it if they win all five remaining games.

Having played all five first round matches, Albania now see themselves rank fourth with only six points, trailing leaders Spain and Italy by seven points and lagging behind three points third-placed Israel, who now remain Albania’s sole rival in their fight for a third place in group G of the World Cup qualifiers.

The Albanian national side will travel to Israel on June 11 and play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 25 - A trio with a link to Albania are helping Switzerland’s Lugano fight for a place in the Europa League. Back in January 2017 just before Albania international Armando Sadiku and Albania's assistant coach Paolo Tramezzani moved to Lugano, the Swiss side was struggling just off the relegation zone. Four months later, Lugano find themselves in a comfortable position, ranking fifth, trailing third-placed Sion by only five points and in the race for a place in the UEFA Europa League with seven other games to go.

A series of victories under former Albania assistant coach Tramezzani and goals by Albania international Armando Sadiku and Macedonia international with Albanian roots Ezgjan Alioski helped Lugano regain a deserved placed in top Swiss league.

Coach Tramezzani is worried his top two strikers could leave the club by the end of the season considering their performance with Alioski being the league's second best scorer with 15 goals and Armando Sadiku having scored 7 goals in 10 appearances.

"I believe that for one reason or another Alioski and Sadiku will play for only a short time with Lugano. With deep regret as I regard them two wonderful men, I think it's fair that they target an important career," Tramezzani, the Albania coach De Biazi’s chief assistant for five years until early 2017, has said.

The 25-year-old Albanian striker joined Lugano last January after spending the first half of the season with his Zurich club which seems on track for a return to the Swiss Super League.

Having played in Switzerland since 2011, Sadiku has not hidden his ambition to play for a top club and is even trying to get a Bulgarian passport to escape tough non-EU player rules in top European leagues.

"Of course if we are still together, next year we will fight for a top spot. However, we now have to focus on the seven remaining games and let's wait and see what happens later," Sadiku has said.

Having scored seven goals with the national side, including one in the first-ever European championship appearance against Romania at the Euro 2016, Sadiku has been a reference point in Albania’s attack in the past couple of years.

Alioski who has been playing with Lugano since 2016, says he has a special relation with Sadiku.

"We have a wonderful relation. We easily find each other on and off the pitch. We both help each other," says the 25-year-old Macedonia striker of Albanian roots.

In the opening World Cup qualifier with Macedonia last September Alioski equalized Sadiku's opener before Bekim Balaj scored a late winner the following day after the match was abandoned due to torrential rain.

Nicknamed the ‘twins,’ the strikers have often found themselves in the week's top line-up as the best strikers.

Neighbouring Albania and Macedonia find themselves fourth and fifth in group G of the World Cup qualifiers, having bid adieu to their qualification bids in a tough group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain.
                    [post_title] => Albanian ‘twins’ help Lugano fight for a top spot in Swiss Super League
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132017" align="alignright" width="300"]Jahmir Hyka takes the corner kick. Photo: San Jose Earthquakes Jahmir Hyka takes the corner kick. Photo: San Jose Earthquakes[/caption]

TIRANA, April 17 - Albanian international midfielder Jahmir Hyka turned a hero for San Jose Earthquakes at the U.S. Major League Soccer last weekend as he scored a stoppage time equalizer to give his Western Conference side a precious point and keep them in the top five in the first eight games.

The equalizer against Dallas was Hyka's first MLS goal in his six appearances since joining the Quakes earlier this year in the Major League Soccer where he rivals another Albanian international, striker Shkelzen Gashi playing the Colorado Rapids.

The 29-year-old Albanian playmaker joined the Quakes last February on a multi-year contract from Swiss Superligue club Luzern where he had been playing since 2011, making 182 appearances and tallying 25 goals and 20 assists.

“I just followed the ball. The defender missed the ball a little bit, I think, and I just went at full speed. I just took it with me and shot it. I didn’t think so much. Thank God it went in,” Hyka told the Quakes portal about his first career MLS goal.

Commenting on the Quakes getting another later equalizer, Hyka said that shows character and team spirit.

“I think that shows character. We showed the team spirit and that we fight until the last second. That’s important because it’s not the same if you lose or draw the game. I hope that we’ll do better in the next game against New England and get the three points,” said Hyka.

Hyka, who started his career in his hometown of Tirana before playing in Norwegian, Greek and German top leagues, is also a regular with Albania’s national team, having scored twice in 43 caps and with a key contribution to Albania’s debut at a major competition such as the Euro 2016.

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

Meanwhile, Albanian international Shkelzen Gashi has made a poor start with his Colorado Rapids this season after claiming the Goal of the Year award last year and scoring nine goals to help the Rapids make it to the Western Conference championship. The Switzerland-born striker of Kosovo roots has not been a regular starter for the Rapids this season who sit bottom, but with two games in hand. He has not even been called up by Albania's coach De Biasi in the past three World Cup qualifiers.

Albania’s World Cup qualifying bid is now almost over following consecutive losses to group favorites Spain and Italy and even Israel. The poor performance in the past few months follows an impressive 2016 campaign when the national side made a first ever appearance at a major tournament such as Euro 2016 and was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage as one of the third-best placed teams after beating Romania in the group stage.
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, May 23 - Albania will play a friendly against modest Luxembourg on June 4 ahead of a key World Cup qualifier against Israel a week later in a bid to overcome one of its worst losing streaks in more than a decade.

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

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

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

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

Having played all five first round matches, Albania now see themselves rank fourth with only six points, trailing leaders Spain and Italy by seven points and lagging behind three points third-placed Israel, who now remain Albania’s sole rival in their fight for a third place in group G of the World Cup qualifiers.

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

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

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

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

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

The Albanian national side will travel to Israel on June 11 and play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.

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

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