Italy claim hard-earned win against Albania to get seeded for World Cup play-offs

Italy claim hard-earned win against Albania to get seeded for World Cup play-offs

TIRANA, Oct. 10 – Albania concluded their World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow 1-0 loss against four-time world champions Italy, finishing third in a tough group stage dominated by Spain who automatically qualified for Russia 2018. The national side

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Albania tightens security ahead of Italy qualifier over fears of possible terror incidents

Albania tightens security ahead of Italy qualifier over fears of possible terror incidents

TIRANA, Oct. 9 – Albania will conclude their World Cup qualifying campaign on Monday night in a tough home qualifier against neighboring Italy, one of Europe’s toughest sides, under tight security measures over fears of possible terror incidents. Albanian police

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Albania calls up reinforcements for final Spain, Italy qualifiers

Albania calls up reinforcements for final Spain, Italy qualifiers

TIRANA, Oct. 2 – Coach Christian Pannuci has called up some reinforcements for Albania’s last two World Cup qualifiers against European superpowers Spain and Italy in a bid to surprise the group leaders and preserve the current third spot. The

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Skenderbeu claim first group stage point to keep Europa League qualification hopes alive

Skenderbeu claim first group stage point to keep Europa League qualification hopes alive

TIRANA, Sept. 29 – Albania’s Skenderbeu claimed their first Europa League point as they were held to 1-1 draw by Switzerland’s Young Boys in their second group stage game to keep their knockout stage qualification hopes alive. In their first

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Albania brace for tough Spain, Italy tests in final World Cup qualifiers

Albania brace for tough Spain, Italy tests in final World Cup qualifiers

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Sept. 27 – Albania will conclude their World Cup qualifying campaign with two tough qualifiers against Spain and Italy, two of Europe’s toughest national sides, in a bid to preserve their third place in Group G

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One point in two matches, Partizani like 18 years ago

One point in two matches, Partizani like 18 years ago

Partizani, trained by Mark Iuliano, remains the only team in the Superior League not to score a goal in the first two matches, as it was defeated 2-0 at home from Laç and tied with Kukës (0-0). One has to

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Italian Moggi-Iuliano duo disappoint in Partizani debut as new Albanian Superliga season kicks off

Italian Moggi-Iuliano duo disappoint in Partizani debut as new Albanian Superliga season kicks off

TIRANA, Sept. 13 – Albania’s Partizani and their new managing Italian duo, former Juventus managing director Lucciano Moggi and ex-defender turned coach Mark Iuliano disappointed in their Superliga debut as title-contenders Partizani conceded a 2-0 home defeat against Laçi who

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Newly relegated Tirana beat Superliga champions to win 11th Albania Super Cup

Newly relegated Tirana beat Superliga champions to win 11th Albania Super Cup

TIRANA, Sept. 7 – Newly relegated Tirana claimed a surprise victory against Superliga champions Kukes to win their 11th Albania Super Cup, setting a new record in the almost 30-year history of the pre-season fixture between the Albanian Cup and top

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Albania claim hard-earned draw in qualifier with Macedonia

Albania claim hard-earned draw in qualifier with Macedonia

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Sept. 6 – Albania were a held to a draw by Macedonia in tough away World Cup qualifier on Tuesday night in a lackluster performance which was the first real test for the national side and

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Albania prepare for Macedonia qualifier after easy win over Liechtenstein

Albania prepare for Macedonia qualifier after easy win over Liechtenstein

TIRANA, Sept. 4 – Albania comfortably climbed to third place in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers last weekend following an easy home win against modest Liechtenstein, narrowing the gap to second-placed Italy to four points and reviving hopes

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_134088" align="alignright" width="300"]Fans unveil a giant Cana shirt reading "Cana forever": Photo: Albanian Football Association Fans unveil a giant Cana shirt reading "Cana forever": Photo: Albanian Football Association[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 10 - Albania concluded their World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow 1-0 loss against four-time world champions Italy, finishing third in a tough group stage dominated by Spain who automatically qualified for Russia 2018.

The national side produced a good performance and were almost equal to the Italians who had already secured a play-off but desperately needed a win to be seeded in the pot with four highest-ranked teams for the Russia 2018 play-off draw on Oct. 17 when they learn their opponents.

The Italians came to Albania after a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Macedonia and finished their qualifying campaign trailing group leaders Spain by 5 points, drawing criticism by Italian media.

Held under tight security measures over fears of possible terrorist incidents, the match at Shkopdra’s “Loro Borici” stadium, Italy’s first in Albania, was decided by a second half winner by Inter midfielder Antonio Candreva.

Albania's legendary captain, the national side's most capped player with 93 games, bid adieu to a sellout crowd of 16,000 in a farewell ceremony accompanied by his Italian wife and two-year-old son. The much travelled defender who played in France, Italy, England and Turkey, quit the national side and club football at 33 in mid-2016 after leading the Red & Blacks to a historic first ever appearance in a major competition such as France 2016.

The Four world cups Italy have claimed were also displayed at the local “Migjeni” theatre in Shkodra, northern Albania, in an exhibition paying tribute to the popularity of the Italian national side in Albania.

Albania collected 13 points in 10 matches in the World Cup qualifying campaign and much of the success for finishing third is dedicated to Gianni De Biasi, Christian Pannuci’s predecessor who led Albania to first-ever appearance to a major competition such as Euro 2016. De Biasi, who now coaches Deportivo Alavés at Spain’s top league, quit the national side in mid-2016 after avenging Israel with 3-0 away win.

Having led Albania in the last four qualifiers, Pannuci, a 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience, only managed to beat modest Liechtenstein and get a hard-earned draw away to Macedonia in the first two games.

In the away qualifier with Spain, Albania was thrashed 3-0 in the first 27 minutes and could do little against Real Madrid and Barcelona stars despite hitting the bar twice with two headers. Spain, who remained unbeaten in their qualifying campaign, also beat second-placed Italy 3-0 last September to extend their lead.

The next challenge for Albania and coach Pannuci will be to make a good appearance in UEFA’s maiden Nations League and try to repeat history with another qualification for the Euro 2020.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 9 – Albania will conclude their World Cup qualifying campaign on Monday night in a tough home qualifier against neighboring Italy, one of Europe’s toughest sides, under tight security measures over fears of possible terror incidents.

Albanian police authorities say they have tightened security ahead of the qualifier with what is apparently the most popular national side in Albania “to identify individuals and extremist groups with clear criminal and terrorist intentions that could severely infringe public order before, during and after the sports event."

Albania will play Italy tonight at the “Loro Boriçi” stadium in the northern Albanian city of Shkodra in a qualifier that does not decide much as four-times World Champions Italy have already secured their play-off opportunity as the second best group stage national side while Albania remain hopeful to preserve their third place which also depends on group leaders Spain making no concessions in their final qualifier away to Israel.

The Albanian state police say they have placed anti-terror experts at the border-crossing points with Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and at Durres Port to stop individuals with radical or extremist tendencies and will also be monitoring social networks to identify calls inciting extremism.

The "Illyrian Elite" group which in last March's first leg qualifier with Italy in Palermo threw flares on the pitch, leading to the game's suspension for several minutes and costing Albania a CHF 100,000 (€92,000) fine by FIFA, will not be allowed to attend the match.

Meanwhile, the main “Red & Black” fan group, which has been boycotting the national side’s home matches since the Nov. 2016 home qualifier with Israel over what they call “state terror against fans” will not be attending the final World Cup qualifier when a farewell ceremony will also be held in honor of legendary Albania captain Lorik Cana. Albania’s most capped player with 93 games, Cana quit the national side and club football at 33 in mid-2016 after leading the Red & Blacks to a historic first ever appearance in a major competition such as France 2016.

The run-up to the Nov. 2016 Albania-Israel World Cup qualifier led to several arrests in Albania and Kosovo over an alleged planned terrorist attack after local authorities were tipped off by Israeli intelligence services.

Only about 1,200 Italy fans, 700 of whom Italians residing in Albania, will be attending the match at the 16,000-seat Loro Boriçi stadium.

Albania take on Italy after being thrashed 3-0 in the away qualifier with Spain last weekend while Italy were held to 1-1 draw by Macedonia. Albania were beaten 2-0 in the first-leg away qualifier in Palermo under former coach Gianni De Biasi and it's now Christian Pannuci's turn to show what he can do against a big national side, having only beaten Lichtenstein and drawn against Macedonia since taking over in mid-2017.

Not in their best days, Italy will be fighting for a victory to be seeded in the pot with the four highest-ranked teams for the Russia 2018 play-off draw of Europe's eight best runners-up.

The Italy encounter is considered a ‘local derby’ due to half a million Albanians living in Italy and the popularity the neighboring country across the Adriatic enjoys in Albania. Some key Albanian players, including Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj and Lazio and Atalanta goalkeepers Thomas Stratosha and Etrit Berisha play in Italy's Serie A while several others were born or grew up as professional players in Italy.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 2 – Coach Christian Pannuci has called up some reinforcements for Albania’s last two World Cup qualifiers against European superpowers Spain and Italy in a bid to surprise the group leaders and preserve the current third spot.

The Italian coach has made up with Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka who returns to the national side after a six-month disciplinary suspension and also called up Turkish top league striker Sokol Cikalleshi after leaving him out for last September’s Liechtenstein and Macedonia qualifiers.

Greek and Swiss top league midfielders Ergys Kaçe and Ermir Lenjani have also received a call to help in Albania's closing qualifiers as three regular starters will be missing the first qualifier against Spain on yellow card suspension.

The surprise player receiving his debut call is Emanuele Ndoj, a much promising Italy-born and raised 20-year-old central midfielder playing Brescia in Italy’s Serie B. He joins Spain-born defender of Albanian origin Ivan Balliu, Albania-born, Italy-raised left back Hysen Memolla who plays for Croatia’s Hajduk Split and Macedonia-born Valon Ahmedi, an attacking midfielder for Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful club, who are yet to make their debut under Pannuci’s lead.

Almost all 26-players Pannuci has called up for the closing qualifiers play abroad except for the third-choice goalkeeper, raising concerns over neglect to the Albanian Superliga and some Skenderbeu stars who made it twice to the Europa League group stage in the past three years.

“Spain and Italy are both very important fixtures for Albania's image. They are both tougher than us, but football has shown you can succeed even against the best,” Pannuci told a press conference as the national side prepares for the first away qualifier against group leaders Spain on Friday, October 6.

“I want 11 lions on the pitch. We will try hard to get a positive result. We respect our opponents, but I don't like hearing our opponents are tougher without facing each other yet,” said Pannuci, who also served for a short spell in 2012 as assistant to Fabio Capello, one of the greatest Italian coaches, when he was leading the Russian national side.

“Of course I am thrilled both about Italy and Spain. It is clear Italy is more emotional for Albanians, but it does not make a difference for me, I am Italian, but also played in Madrid and am attached to Spain,” he added.

The 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience will have his third and fourth game in Albania’s lead as he tries to follow in Gianni De Biasi’s footsteps, Albania’s most successful coach who resigned in mid-2017 after managing to take Albania to a first-ever appearance in a major tournament such as Euro 2016.

The final qualifying campaign fixture on October 9 will be special as Albania plays four-times World Champions Italy, a much supported national side in Albania and whose Serie A top league, where about a dozen of Albanians play, is one of Albanian fans’ favorites.

The final qualifiers are also a personal challenge for Pannuci to show what he can do better than his predecessor De Biasi who lost both first leg qualifiers against Spain and Italy 2-0 in lackluster performances, marred by defensive blunders.

In the first two games under Pannuci last September, Albania easily beat modest Liechtenstein 2-0 but claimed a hard-earned 1-1 draw in the away qualifier with neighbouring Macedonia.

With two other games to go, Albania have collected 13 points in 8 qualifiers and comfortably rank third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers, with a four-point lead over fourth-placed Israel, but trailing Italy by six points which makes hopes for a second place and a playoff opportunity an almost mission impossible.

The next challenge for Albania will be to make a good appearance in UEFA’s maiden Nations League and try to repeat history with another qualification for the Euro 2020.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 29 - Albania's Skenderbeu claimed their first Europa League point as they were held to 1-1 draw by Switzerland’s Young Boys in their second group stage game to keep their knockout stage qualification hopes alive.

In their first home encounter of the campaign, Gambian striker Ali Sowe gave Skenderbeu the lead in the 65th minute, but Albania’s sole Europa League representatives failed to resist pressure conceding an equalizer 7 minutes later.

In a balanced encounter where scoring opportunities and ball possession were almost equal, Skenderbeu showed maturity against a club with much more experience in European competitions.

With four other games to go, the Albanian “Snow Wolves” who are only making their second appearance at the UEFA Europa League, have collected only 1 point in their first two fixtures, ranking fourth in Group B, level on points with Partizan Belgrade and trailing Swiss Young Boys by 1 point.

Group favorites Ukraine's Dynamo Kyiv who came from behind to beat Skenderbeu 3-1 in their opening game and also beat Partizan Belgrade 3-2 seem unrivalled in the top finish, but the race for the second place and a chance to make it to the knockout stage remains open for all three other contenders.

Coach Ilir Daja said Skenderbeu had already met expectations with its second Europa League appearance and will keep fighting for a second place in the group stage although the club’s priority is the Albanian Superliga which they have dominated in the past decade claiming five straight titles and having one lifted on match-fixing allegations.

Skenderbeu’s next Europa League will be at home to Partizan Belgrade on Oct. 19 in a tough encounter that has already sparked interest following the late 2014 incident in a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier when a drone with a nationalist Albanian symbols at the Belgrade stadium triggered violence and led to the game's suspension.

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

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

Skenderbeu return to European competition after a one-year ban imposed by European football governing body, UEFA, on match-fixing allegations in the 2015-2016 Champions and Europa League campaigns, making history as the only Albanian club to have made it in the final stage of European competitions.

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

Having played three games, Skenderbeu lead the Albanian Superliga on goal difference over reigning first-time champions Kukes in a season start with not much rivalry as Partizani led by former Juventus player Mark Iuliano and transfer guru Luciano Moggi as advisor have disappointed collecting only 1 point in first three games.

Meanwhile, Albania’s most successful top flight club Tirana is missing in this season’s Superliga following their surprise first-ever relegation last season after about a century in the top Albanian league.
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

[caption id="attachment_133916" align="alignright" width="300"]Group G Group G standings (FIFA)[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 27 - Albania will conclude their World Cup qualifying campaign with two tough qualifiers against Spain and Italy, two of Europe's toughest national sides, in a bid to preserve their third place in Group G which earns neither direct qualification, nor a playoff opportunity, but serves the Red & Blacks to improve their seeding ahead of UEFA's maiden Nations League and the Euro 2020 draws.

Albania will first travel to Spain on October 6 before hosting Italy three days later in their concluding World Cup qualifying fixture, in an almost mission impossible against two former world champions who are unrivalled in the top two finish.

The national side lost both first leg qualifiers against Spain and Italy 2-0 in lackluster performances, but could have done better had they avoided defensive blunders that have haunted Albania during these qualifiers.

In the away qualifier against Spain, Hamburger defender Mergim Mavraj, Sion midfielder Burim Kukeli and Grozny’s right winger Odise Roshi, three regular starters for the Albanian national side, will be missing on yellow card suspension, making it more difficult for Albania to hope for a positive result against the group leaders who remain unbeaten in their eight matches and hold a comfortable 3-point lead over second placed Italy.

The final qualifying campaign fixture on October 9 will be special as Albania plays four-times World Champions Italy, a much supported national side in Albania and whose Serie A top league, where about a dozen of Albanians play, is one of Albanian fans’ favorites.

The match kick-off with Italy at the “Loro Boriçi” stadium in the northern city of Shkodra will be preceded with a farewell ceremony to former legendary captain Lorik Cana, the football association has announced. Albania’s most capped player with 93 games, Cana quit the national side and club football at 33 in mid-2016 after leading the Red & Blacks to a historic first ever appearance in a major competition such as France 2016.

The much-travelled Albanian defender spent four of his best years with Italy's Lazio from 2011 to 2015 before joining France’s Ligue 1 club Nantes. Born in Kosovo, Cana began his professional career in France with Paris Saint Germain and also played for Marseille, Sunderland and Galatasaray before moving to Lazio in 2011.

Albania’s new Italian coach Christian Pannuci has described the final qualifiers with Spain and Italy as very tough, but said “Albania will do their best and try to make history.”

The 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience will have his third and fourth game in Albania’s lead as he tries to follow in Gianni De Biasi’s footsteps, Albania’s most successful coach who resigned in mid-2017 following a stunning 3-0 away victory to Israel.

The 60-year-old coach who led Albania for five and a half years, including the debut at a major tournament such as Euro 2016, has recently undertaken a new club adventure with Deportivo Alavés in Spain's La Liga.

In the first two games under Pannuci last September, Albania easily beat modest Liechtenstein 2-0 but claimed a hard-earned 1-1 draw in the away qualifier with neighbouring Macedonia.

With two other games to go, Albania have collected 13 points in 8 qualifiers and comfortably rank third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers, with a four-point lead over fourth-placed Israel, but trailing Italy by six points which makes hopes for a second place and a playoff opportunity an almost mission impossible.

The next challenge for Albania will be to make a good appearance in UEFA’s maiden Nations League and try to repeat history with another qualification for the Euro 2020.
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                    [post_content] => Partizani, trained by Mark Iuliano, remains the only team in the Superior League not to score a goal in the first two matches, as it was defeated 2-0 at home from Laç and tied with Kukës (0-0). One has to dig deep in the team’s archives to find a similar start of the season. It only happened 18 years ago that Partizan started off this way, receiving two points in the first two matches. The referred year is season 1999-2000, when for the first time the team downgraded from the Superior League. Even that starting of the season was better, as the team at least scored a goal, whereas the present team is yet to score. During that season, Partizan achieved its first victory on the third week, when they defeated Apolonia 3-1, with one goal scored by Alban Rexha and one by Shtrepi. It is yet to be seen what Partizan of Mark Iuliano will achieve on its third week. If the reds don’t win against Skenderbeu, Partizan’s worst start in the club’s history at the Superior League will be confirmed. Despite the downpours in Tirana the past days, the team has continued preparing for the meeting with Skenderbeu next Saturday. What has been noticed in the training areas of the Kamzë facility is trainer’s Mark Iuliano absence, who is sourced to be down with the common flu.

The team is down with the flu
Central midfielder Gezim Krasniqi has a similar problem with trainer Mark Iuliano, as he was present in the field but did not train with the rest of the team. At the absence of Iuliano, the team has been training with substitute trainer Klevis Dalipi and the other part of the staff. The footballers who played in the match against Kukës have been doing light training, with only few athletic exercises. Meanwhile, the rest of the team has gone through a ‘control’ game among them. More information on the formation of players that will appear on the field during the match in Korçë will be provided as soon as trainer Iuliano returns to practice. The latter said he was satisfied with his team’s performance on the field, despite the fact they could not be victorious, which means there will not be many changes in the formation that will play against Kukës.
                    [post_title] => One point in two matches, Partizani like 18 years ago
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133743" align="alignright" width="300"]Partizani President (C) Gazmend Demi shakes hands with Mark Iuliano, Lucciano Moggi (R) Partizani President Gazmend Demi (C) shakes hands with Mark Iuliano, Lucciano Moggi (R)[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 13 - Albania's Partizani and their new managing Italian duo, former Juventus managing director Lucciano Moggi and ex-defender turned coach Mark Iuliano disappointed in their Superliga debut as title-contenders Partizani conceded a 2-0 home defeat against Laçi who hardly managed to escape relegation last season.

Partizani, who are hoping to make a decades-long comeback as Superliga champions after finishing second in the past two seasons, hired former Juventus managing director Lucciano Moggi as adviser to president Gazmend Demi, 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 opening Superliga campaign last weekend was a complete failure for the Reds who despite creating a lot of scoring opportunities failed to convert and conceded two second half goals, one of which following a blunder by substitute goalkeeper Xhika who replaced captain Alban Hoxha, punished on the bench for breach of club discipline.

Partizani now face an even tougher encounter with reigning champions Kukes in the second Superliga week in another home fixture that will be played in Tirana's 'Selman Stermasi' stadium on Sept. 18.

The encounter will be the best test for Partizani to show their strength against one of the direct title rivals along with Skenderbeu.

Speaking to reporters after Partizani debut defeat, Lucciano Moggi defended the club's decision to punish Albanian international Alban Hoxha, the long-serving Partizani captain for breach of rules after he was called up for Albania's two qualifiers with Liechtenstein and Macedonia in early September.

"We preferred undertaking the risk because it's better losing one game and adhering to the rules," Moggi told daily Panorama Sport in an interview.

"The team dominated the game and we conceded the goals because of our own mistakes in two counterattacks. There is nothing to worry about the opening game. It's better that it happened now as we have time to learn lessons and understand what we have to do," he added.

The 80-year-old Italian transfer guru, who is suffering a lifetime ban from Italian football for his role in the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal, was hired as Partizani adviser in late April 2017.

Moggi has earlier announced he targets turning Partizani into “a little Juventus.”

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

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

In the other Superliga opening games, reigning champions Kukes narrowly beat newly promoted Kamza 1-0 while Skenderbeu claimed a 2-0 home win with Flamurtari.

South-east Albania-based Skenderbeu, the most successful Albanian club of the past decade, were the only Albanian team to shine on international stage this summer, claiming a second Europa League group stage qualification. They are also this year’s favourites to win the Albanian Superliga.

Skenderbeu will play their opening Europa League group stage match on Sept. 14 away to Ukraine's Dynamo Kyiv, considered a favorite to make it to the knockout stage. Serbia's FK Partizan and Switzerland's Young Boys are the two other opponents Skenderbeu will play in the group stage fixtures scheduled from September to December.

Albania's most successful top flight club Tirana is missing in this season's Superliga following its surprise first-ever relegation last season after about a century in the top Albanian league. The record 24-times Superliga champions recently beat Superliga champions Kukes to win their 11th Albania Super Cup.

Tirana have been drawn in Group B of the First Division with Apollonia, Bylis and Shkumbini as the toughest among the 10 clubs fighting for promotion to the Albanian Superliga.

Tirana, who have hired Brazilian coach De Maria, now face the tough task of making it to the Albanian Superliga and bringing back irritated fans to the stadium.

The capital city team will play their opening First Division match at home to modest Fushe-Kruja-based Iliria on Sept. 16.
                    [post_title] => Italian Moggi-Iuliano duo disappoint in Partizani debut as new Albanian Superliga season kicks off
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 7 – Newly relegated Tirana claimed a surprise victory against Superliga champions Kukes to win their 11th Albania Super Cup, setting a new record in the almost 30-year history of the pre-season fixture between the Albanian Cup and top league winners.

A long-range left-footed shot by defender Erion Hoxhallari just before injury time gave Tirana a deserved victory over Kukes who played in 10 men for 60 minutes. The winner also avoided extra time and possible penalty shootout as north-east Albania-based Kukes with not much history in Albania’s top flight were seeking a second consecutive Super Cup victory.

The Super Cup victory is a morale booster for Tirana, the country’s most successful club who will be playing in the First Division this season following their humiliating relegation from the Albanian Superliga after about a century in the top flight of Albanian football.

Having played in the top Albanian league for only the past five years, but finishing second three times, north-east Albania-based Kukes made history in the Albanian Superliga last season as they claimed their first title.

Both Kukes and Tirana were eliminated in the first rounds of their Champions League and Europa League qualifying campaigns. South-east Albania-based Skenderbeu, the most successful Albanian club of the past decade, were the only Albanian team to shine on international stage this summer, claiming a second Europa League group stage qualification.

Tirana, who have hired Brazilian coach De Maria, face the tough task of making it to the Albanian Superliga and bringing back irritated fans to the stadium.

"It was a good season start, the team beat the champions playing beautiful football. We are sorry to have been demoted but this is an incentive to make it to the top flight again," said Ze Maria, a former Brazilian international who spent most of his career as a right back with Italian clubs until the mid-2000s.

Tirana have been drawn in Group B of the First Division with Apollonia, Bylis and Shkumbini as the toughest among the 10 clubs fighting for promotion to the Albanian Superliga.

The capital city team will play their opening First Division match at home to modest Fushe-Kruja-based Iliria on Sept. 16.
                    [post_title] => Newly relegated Tirana beat Superliga champions to win 11th Albania Super Cup
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                    [post_date] => 2017-09-06 10:19:42
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133676" align="alignright" width="300"]Midfielder Odise Roshi was Albania's protagonist giving the national side the lead, but also inflicting a penalty earning Macedonia an equalizer. Photo: Albanian Football Association Midfielder Odise Roshi was Albania's protagonist giving the national side the lead, but also committing a foul leading to a penalty, earning Macedonia an equalizer. Photo: Albanian Football Association[/caption]

By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Sept. 6 - Albania were a held to a draw by Macedonia in tough away World Cup qualifier on Tuesday night in a lackluster performance which was the first real test for the national side and new coach Christian Pannuci after the departure of Gianni De Biasi.

The Red & Blacks suffered in the first half but two second half replacements proved decisive with substitute midfielder Odise Roshi giving the national side the lead with a wonderful header following a deep delivery by striker Armando Sadiku.

Russia’s Akhmat Grozny midfielder Roshi was the real protagonist as he later committed a foul leading to a penalty after a needless hand touch, giving Macedonia a deserved equalizer.

Albania were unlucky in the 59th minute as Legia Warsaw striker Armando Sadiku missed the target from close range after an assist by substitute playmaker Ledian Memushaj who will be playing for newly promoted Serie A Benevento this season.

However, after Macedonia’s equalizer, Albania were really lucky to get away with a draw, also thanks to some wonderful saves by Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.

Neighbouring Macedonia dominated the game in terms of shots on target and ball possession, unveiling the national side has a lot of work to do in its new era with Christian Pannuci, a 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience.

The match played at Mladost Stadium in Strumica town, east of the country close to Macedonia’s border with Bulgaria, was also a small Albanian derby as neighbouring Macedonia had three ethnic Albanian players in its starting line-up, with Leeds attacking midfielder Ezgjan Alioski being one of the best for Macedonia.

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

While everything went quite smooth, local media reported there were racist chants by Macedonian fans, which could lead to FIFA investigation and punishment.

However, the draw away to Macedonia served Albania to strengthen its third place in Group G of the qualifier where former World Cup champions Spain and Italy seem unrivalled in the top two finish with only two games remaining.

Coach Christian Pannuci considered the draw with Macedonia a fair result, saying Albania will “try to change history in the remaining two games with Spain and Italy."

Albania now rank third with 13 points, trailing second-placed Italy by 6 points and 4 points above fourth-placed Israel.

Macedonia have collected seven points while modest Liechtenstein have yet to earn a point.

Albania will close its World Cup qualifiers next October with two tough fixtures away to Spain and at home to Italy, hopeful to preserve their third place which earns neither direct qualification nor a playoff opportunity for Russia 2018 but improves the national side's seeding in upcoming draws.

The Red & Blacks are hopeful they will repeat history in Euro 2020 with a second appearance in a major competition following their 2016 debut.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133658" align="alignright" width="300"]agolli Captain Ansi Agolli scored the second goal with a stunning shot just outside the box. Photo: Albanian Football Association[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 4 - Albania comfortably climbed to third place in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers last weekend following an easy home win against modest Liechtenstein, narrowing the gap to second-placed Italy to four points and reviving hopes for a possible play-off opportunity in case of finishing second.

Two second-half goals by Odise Roshi and captain Ansi Agolli gave Albania an easy win as new Italian coach Christian Pannuci made his debut with Liechtenstein, an easy test ahead of the tough Sept. 5 away qualifier against neighboring Macedonia.

Speaking after his first victory, the former 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender who is having his first international coaching experience with Albania, said he was in general pleased with the performance and result although the team suffered to convert scoring opportunities.

"We go to Macedonia happy about the victory and are aware it is a tough match and have to field in the best quality," Pannuci said.

Legia Warwaw striker Armando Sadiku is expected to be in the starting eleven for Albania on Tuesday night's qualifier away to Macedonia, strengthening Albania's attack after being let to rest for Liechtenstein qualifier.

The 26-year-old has been Albania's key striker in the past couple of years, helping the team qualify for a first-ever major competition such as Euro 2016 and keeping pace with former World Champions Spain and Italy in the World Cup qualifiers.

With three other qualifiers to go, Albania has collected 12 points, three points ahead of Israel who suffered their second consecutive home defeat to Macedonia following last June 3-0 loss to Albania.

Italy also suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat away to Spain who now comfortably hold a 3-point lead in Group G, paving the way for their direct qualification.

The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy Spain who seem unrivaled in the top two finish.
                    [post_title] => Albania prepare for Macedonia qualifier after easy win over Liechtenstein
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_134088" align="alignright" width="300"]Fans unveil a giant Cana shirt reading "Cana forever": Photo: Albanian Football Association Fans unveil a giant Cana shirt reading "Cana forever": Photo: Albanian Football Association[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 10 - Albania concluded their World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow 1-0 loss against four-time world champions Italy, finishing third in a tough group stage dominated by Spain who automatically qualified for Russia 2018.

The national side produced a good performance and were almost equal to the Italians who had already secured a play-off but desperately needed a win to be seeded in the pot with four highest-ranked teams for the Russia 2018 play-off draw on Oct. 17 when they learn their opponents.

The Italians came to Albania after a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Macedonia and finished their qualifying campaign trailing group leaders Spain by 5 points, drawing criticism by Italian media.

Held under tight security measures over fears of possible terrorist incidents, the match at Shkopdra’s “Loro Borici” stadium, Italy’s first in Albania, was decided by a second half winner by Inter midfielder Antonio Candreva.

Albania's legendary captain, the national side's most capped player with 93 games, bid adieu to a sellout crowd of 16,000 in a farewell ceremony accompanied by his Italian wife and two-year-old son. The much travelled defender who played in France, Italy, England and Turkey, quit the national side and club football at 33 in mid-2016 after leading the Red & Blacks to a historic first ever appearance in a major competition such as France 2016.

The Four world cups Italy have claimed were also displayed at the local “Migjeni” theatre in Shkodra, northern Albania, in an exhibition paying tribute to the popularity of the Italian national side in Albania.

Albania collected 13 points in 10 matches in the World Cup qualifying campaign and much of the success for finishing third is dedicated to Gianni De Biasi, Christian Pannuci’s predecessor who led Albania to first-ever appearance to a major competition such as Euro 2016. De Biasi, who now coaches Deportivo Alavés at Spain’s top league, quit the national side in mid-2016 after avenging Israel with 3-0 away win.

Having led Albania in the last four qualifiers, Pannuci, a 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience, only managed to beat modest Liechtenstein and get a hard-earned draw away to Macedonia in the first two games.

In the away qualifier with Spain, Albania was thrashed 3-0 in the first 27 minutes and could do little against Real Madrid and Barcelona stars despite hitting the bar twice with two headers. Spain, who remained unbeaten in their qualifying campaign, also beat second-placed Italy 3-0 last September to extend their lead.

The next challenge for Albania and coach Pannuci will be to make a good appearance in UEFA’s maiden Nations League and try to repeat history with another qualification for the Euro 2020.
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