Albania’s Napoli fullback in fresh talks to revise contract, release clause

Albania’s Napoli fullback in fresh talks to revise contract, release clause

TIRANA, April 2 – Albania’s Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj is reportedly holding fresh talks with Italian Serie A side Napoli who seem willing to extend his contract and increase his release clause as the 24-year-old Albania international has become the

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Albanian women claim first World Cup qualifying campaign victory

Albanian women claim first World Cup qualifying campaign victory

TIRANA, April 11 – Albanian women claimed their first World Cup qualifying campaign victory this week as they beat Belarus with a late winner to avenge their first-leg away defeat. Midfielder Lucie Gjini gave Albania a long-awaited first win just

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Albania’s Skenderbeu handed 10-year ban over match-fixing in worst ever UEFA punishment

Albania’s Skenderbeu handed 10-year ban over match-fixing in worst ever UEFA punishment

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, March 29 – Albania’s Skenderbeu has been handed a 10-year ban from European competition by UEFA over match fixing and fined €1 million in the worst ever punishment for a European club unless the Court of

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Albanian lifter becomes European champion, overshadowing country’s doping scandal

Albanian lifter becomes European champion, overshadowing country’s doping scandal

TIRANA, March 29 – Briken Calja claimed three gold medals at the European Senior Weightlifting Championships in Romania this week, bringing back glory to Albanian weightlifting following a doping scandal earlier this year. The 28-year-old Albanian lifted 146 kg in

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Albania’s Italian coach under fire following humiliating Norway defeat

Albania’s Italian coach under fire following humiliating Norway defeat

TIRANA, March 28 – Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci has come under fire over the national side’s humiliating 1-0 home loss against Norway in the first 2018 test ahead of next September’s kick off of the Nations League, a tournament

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Albania coach worried over key players’ condition ahead of Norway friendly

Albania coach worried over key players’ condition ahead of Norway friendly

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, March 19 – Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci has expressed concern over the condition of some key players due to few playing opportunities with their clubs as the national side takes on Norway in a friendly

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Lazio sporting director says he could leave only if he becomes Albania’s coach

Lazio sporting director says he could leave only if he becomes Albania’s coach

TIRANA, March 5 – Former Albania international Igli Tare says he is happy with Lazio in Italy’s Serie A where he ended his career as a professional striker in 2008 and has been serving as the club’s sporting director for

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Thousands petition UEFA against Skenderbeu’s disciplinary proceedings

Thousands petition UEFA against Skenderbeu’s disciplinary proceedings

TIRANA, Feb. 22 – Thousands of fans packed Korça’s main boulevard this week in a peaceful march to protest and petition against UEFA disciplinary proceedings that could see Skenderbeu banned for up to ten years from European competition on match-fixing

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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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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_136585" align="alignright" width="300"]Elseid Hysaj Elseid Hysaj[/caption]

TIRANA, April 2 – Albania’s Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj is reportedly holding fresh talks with Italian Serie A side Napoli who seem willing to extend his contract and increase his release clause as the 24-year-old Albania international has become the target of top English Premier League clubs.

Italian media say Napoli are mulling offering the Albanian fullback, regarded as one of the world’s best defenders, a two-year contract extension until 2023 and raise his release clause from a current €50 million to €80 million amid reports that Manchester United and Arsenal are willing to pay for his transfer.

Hysaj has been playing Napoli since 2015 when he moved from Empoli for a mere €5 million fee, turning into a regular starter and helping Napoli rival for a long-awaited Serie A title.

With seven games remaining, Napoli rank second in the Serie A for this season, trailing leaders Juventus by only four points and with a comfortable 16-point lead over third and fourth-placed Lazio and Roma.

Albania’s most sought-after player has been capped 37 times for the national side since his 2013 debut with a key contribution to Albania’s first-ever appearance in a major international tournament such as the Euro 2016.

He recently made it to the top 500 players on the UK's World Soccer" magazine, joining former Albania internationals Lorik Cana and Shkelzen Gashi as well as current Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka whose Arsenal playmaker brother plays for Switzerland.  In the opening group stage match at the Euro 2016 in France, the Xhakas they became the first two brothers to face each other for different national sides in a European competition.

“Elseid Hysaj is an attacking right-back who helped Albania qualify for Euro 2016 and is now an important figure in Napoli's Serie A," says the Magazine in its April issue.

Hysaj grew up as a player in Italy where he moved when he was 14.

Several other Albania internationals play in Italy’s Serie A including Lazio and Atalanta goalkeepers Thomas Strakosha and Etrit Berisha.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 11 – Albanian women claimed their first World Cup qualifying campaign victory this week as they beat Belarus with a late winner to avenge their first-leg away defeat.

Midfielder Lucie Gjini gave Albania a long-awaited first win just two minutes before injury time when she netted from close range at a time when the game was heading for a goalless draw.

The victory against Belarus is the second consecutive positive result Albanian women have claimed at the World Cup qualifying campaign following a draw away to Poland earlier on April 6 and five defeats in a row in the late 2017 group stage matches.

Having played seven games, Albania now find themselves rank fourth in Group 2, with four points, one more than bottom ranked Belarus, but trailing group leaders Switzerland by 11 points and mathematically out of the 2019 World Cup with only one game left to play and their rivals having at least two games in hand.

"The draw with Poland would have been worthless without this victory. I believe it was the self-confidence and the team play that led to this victory," said Albania’s coach Armir Grima.

"This national side is promising. We don't pretend to work wonders in women's football, but we will gradually grow and continue to play decently as in the past few years," he added.

Albania will play their final qualifying campaign game at home against second-placed Scotland who beat them 5-0 in the first-leg encounter. The game against Scotland, who have so far played only four qualifying round matches in Group 2, is scheduled for September 4.

Albanian women progressed to their first-ever World cup qualifying round after a historic preliminary round victory with Greece with an injury time winner in April 2017. Albania earlier beat Kosovo 3-2 in a small derby of Albanian roots considering that most of the Albania national side players are of Kosovo origin and was held to a goalless draw by Malta.

The qualification to the group stage was a major success for the Albanian women’s national side, only six years after their debut. Albania has had a professional women's national championship since 2009.

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be held in France being the eighth tournament since the inaugural 1991 Women’s World Cup in China.
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, March 29 - Albania's Skenderbeu has been handed a 10-year ban from European competition by UEFA over match fixing and fined €1 million in the worst ever punishment for a European club unless the Court of Arbitration for Sport decides otherwise in the expected appeal that Albania’s best club of the past decade is expected to file.

UEFA's disciplinary body has handed the ban over 50 matched Skenderbeu is suspected to have fixed in the Champions League and Europa League campaigns as well as in the Albanian Superliga and in friendlies since 2011.

The punishment had already been warned by UEFA’s ethics and disciplinary inspectors who said the one-year ban for Skenderbeu in 2015 was only a “preliminary ban and that the UEFA disciplinary bodies were considering real disciplinary measures.”

Skenderbeu's punishment is the harshest the European football governing body has ever handed to any club and chances are that the Court of Arbitration for Sport could in the best-case scenario only reduce Skenderbeu's 10-year ban.

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.

Reacting to the UEFA decision, Skenderbeu's President Ardian Takaj said the club is convinced of its innocence and will appeal the decision.

“We are clean of this story, it was an expected decision. We are convinced of our innocence and even if the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds this decision, we will address Switzerland's Federal Court," said Takaj, the owner of a 75 percent majority stake in Skenderbeu.

Last February, UEFA said its disciplinary inspectors involved in Skenderbeu’s investigation received anonymous death threats, presumably intended to intimidate them and stop them carrying out their work, but Skenderbeu dismissed any involvement.

Thousands of fans packed Korça’s main boulevard in Feb. 21 in a peaceful march to protest and petition against UEFA disciplinary proceedings that could see Skenderbeu banned for up to ten years from European competition on match-fixing allegations.

“Don’t kill our dream,” “We live football, We love Skenderbeu,” “Our city is not a threat, our city wants justice,”   Skenderbeu, our dream” were some of the slogans fans carried during the march in Korça, the southeastern Albanian city known as the “the little Paris of Albania,” and where football has been one of the main city entertainment in the past decade following Skenderbeu’s domination of the national championship and its two historic appearances at the Europa League group stage.

Petitioners said punishing Skenderbeu, a club named after Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg whose 550th death anniversary this year Albania is marking as the Pan-national Skanderbeg Year, would also be a severe blow to Skanderbeg’s figure.

UEFA banned Skenderbeu from European competition over match fixing allegations in two Champions League qualifiers and two Europa League group-stage games in 2015.

“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.

The Korça-based team are the only Albanian club to have made it to the UEFA Europa League group stage, with two appearances in the past three years and have claimed six Superliga titles since 2011.

Skenderbeu are favorites to win this year’s domestic Superliga title with a comfortable 15-point lead over second placed Kukes this season, but winning the championship will not take them to Champions League or Europa League qualifying campaigns in case CAS upholds the decision.

A 10-year ban and a €1 million fine could give a severe blow to Skenderbeu’s future.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 29 - Briken Calja claimed three gold medals at the European Senior Weightlifting Championships in Romania this week, bringing back glory to Albanian weightlifting following a doping scandal earlier this year.

The 28-year-old Albanian lifted 146 kg in snatch and 175 kg in clean and jerk claiming gold in each discipline and finishing first with a total of 321 kg.

"I am so happy. I dedicate my success to my family, friends and all Albanians," said Calja.

The 28 year-old lifter represented Albania twice in the Olympics Games, finishing fifth at the 2012 Rio Olympics. In 2013, he tested positive for doping and was handed a two-year suspension.

Albania's Weightlifting Federation is confident Calja is clean and faces no threat of having his medals revoked and bringing back shame to the country’s traditionally best performing sport.

The doping scandal this year led to the resignation of the president of Albania’s Weightlifting Federation and Albania losing its right to host the March 2018 Senior European Weightlifting Championships.

The European Senior Weightlifting Championships was initially scheduled to be held in Albania but the European Weightlifting Federation stripped Albania of hosting the championships after Albanian weightlifter Romela Begaj failed a doping test and was stripped of the medals she claimed at the late 2017 IWF World championships in the U.S.

The 31-year-old athlete who competed in the women's 69 kg was confirmed positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance, even in her second test and now risks being handed an 8-year suspension, putting an end to her career with two doping suspensions.

Meanwhile, Erkand Qerimaj, who made a last-minute withdrawal from the Romania Championships this week because of health problems, earned a bronze snatch medal at the men's 77 kg at the IWF World championships in the U.S. after a Romanian bronze medalist tested positive for a banned substance.

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.

Ilirjan Suli finished fifth in the men’s middleweight category at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Romela Begaj was sixth in the women’s lightweight at 2008 Beijing Olympics.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 28 – Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci has come under fire over the national side’s humiliating 1-0 home loss against Norway in the first 2018 test ahead of next September’s kick off of the 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.

Albania produced one of its worst performances of the past few years in this week’s March 26 friendly as it failed to have any shots on target and were lucky to get away with a narrow loss only thanks to Italian Serie A Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha who turned a hero with several saves.

Eros Grezda, the 22 Osijek winger in the Croatian championship was among the few who posed some threat to the Norwegian defense while Armando Sadiku, the now Levante striker in the Spanish top league produced only one header that went close in the 65 minutes he played.

Two new midfielders tested by the Italian coach proved a failure while Albania’s defense left a lot to be desired with key players of the spectacular Euro 2016 campaign when Albania made its first ever major appearance at an international competition not in their best shape after having lost their places in their own clubs’ starting lineups.

The disappointing performance came against Norway, an opponent on par with Albania, who in the March 2018 FIFA rankings ranked 58th out of 206 national sides globally, only one place ahead of Albania and came to Tirana following a 4-1 home win against Australia while Albania chose to play a single friendly in order to better prepare for its first 2018 test.

This is the first time Panucci, a 44-year old former renowned AC Milan and Real Madrid defender with little coaching experience, has come under fire for his tactics since mid-2017 when he replaced compatriot veteran Gianni De Biasi who led Albania for five years and managed to take them to a historic first ever European championship final stage.

Astrit Hafizi, who served as Albania's coach from 1997 to 1999 and faced Norway in the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign managing to get a 2-2 away draw, said Albania produced a disappointing performance and players who don't play with their own clubs cannot be in the starting line-up.

"We gained nothing from this game. The national side played one of their poorest ever matches and the coach reacted poorly. Our national side left no mark. The opponent studied our flaws. They saw we are aggressive but can't finalize and that we get tired in the second half," Hafizi told a local sports TV.

"We made it to the European championship but Albania has now lost its surprise effect. We now have to play as a mature team but can't achieve that as we lack ball possession," he added.

Shkelqim Muça, who has coached several Albanian clubs, also slammed Albania's performance against Norway.

"We saw nothing positive in any respect. It's a pity that the team don't even have the right motivation because that was one of the games that could serve the group for the future," said Muca.

"Both the attack and the defense had nothing in common compared to the previous games. Some of the players who were fielded don't deserve to wear the national side jersey and the coach should be more convinced of the players he calls up," Muça added.

He also criticized the poor performance of Mergim Mavraj, the Hamburger defender and Arlind Ajeti,  the Crotone defender in the Italian Serie A, both of whom have lost their places in their club’s starting lineups as their teams face relegation threats.

Redi Jupi, a former Albania U-21 coach said Panucci's mistake was in compiling the 24-man list of players called up for the national side’s friendly.

"That was the poorest match we played. We can't play good football, get good results and promote players internationally at the same time. It was a shock as everybody was waiting for good results, but learned that the team had problems," said Jupi.

Criticism on Panucci comes after a surprise victory Albania claimed last November in an away friendly with Turkey whom they beat 3-2 as the national side played in 10 men for most of the time.

 

Panucci assumes responsibility 

"We knew about the danger, but we would have never played like this if was a qualifier. I don't want to make excuses and I take the responsibility. But when players such as Ajeti, Mavraj and Sadiku don't play and Roshi has just started playing and is not yet in Turkey's shape, then the situation is completely unfavorable because there are many players who don't play with their own clubs," said Panucci.

Albania’s key striker of the past few years, Armando Sadiku, has been having a tough time during the past year after leaving Switzerland and playing for half a season with Poland’s Legia Warsaw before moving to Spain’s Levante where he has not been a first attacking choice since joining in late January 2018.

Midfielder Odise Roshi plays Russian club Akhmat Grozny together with Albania striker Bekim Balaj who replaced him in the second half.

"Such a defeat gave me more lessons than the victory in Turkey. If everybody made the Turkey performance, I guarantee you we are a very good team" added Panucci.

Albania will play two other friendlies next May, one of which against Ukraine on May 29 and an earlier May 26 against an opponent that still has to be found before embarking on its Nations League campaign.

Albania will start the campaign on Sept. 7, 2018 when they host Israel, a team Albania first faced in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with both sides managing to get 3-0 away victories in their two-legged encounters, but Albania finishing third in a tough group campaign dominated by Spain and Italy.

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, but having failed to reach a major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

Albania travel to Scotland on Sept. 10, three days after playing Israel, to conclude their first-leg Nations League fixtures. The second leg-games will be away to Israel on Oct. 14 and at home to Scotland on Nov. 17.

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

Christian Panucci has led Albania in six games since taking over in mid-2017, winning a World Cup qualifier against modest Liechtenstein and a friendly against Turkey, but losing to European superpowers Spain and Italy and drawing against neighboring Macedonia in World Cup qualifiers and most recently against Norway in a friendly.

Panucci’s managerial experience started in 2012 when he served as assistant to Fabio Capello, one of the greatest Italian coaches, when he was leading the Russian national side. Panucci also managed Serie B sides Livorno, Ternana before taking over as Albania’s coach.

Panucci has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target in his two-and-a-half year Albania contract.
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                    [post_date] => 2018-03-19 16:36:56
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, March 19 - Albania's Italian coach Christian Panucci has expressed concern over the condition of some key players due to few playing opportunities with their clubs as the national side takes on Norway in a friendly in few days.

Albania will play home to Norway on March 26, in the first 2018 test ahead of next September’s inaugural 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.

The Italian coach, who in mid-2017 replaced compatriot Gianni De Biasi, has called up four new players for the Norway friendly and left out veteran players such as Ansi Agolli, the 35-year-old Albania captain in several matches over the past couple of years and who made it to the Champions League group stage with Azerbaijan's Qarabag this season.

Two of the new entries come from the Albanian Superliga and two others from the Swiss and Croatian top leagues. Kristal Abazaj, the 21-year-old Luftetari striker who has scored eight goals in the Albanian Superliga this season, is the surprise name on Panucci's 24-man list, receiving his first call.

"I am a little concerned over the fact that the players are not playing much with their clubs. That was the reason I decided to play a single friendly and work for one week with the players who have been called up," Panucci told a news conference on Monday.

Panucci said he had decided to leave out Ansi Agolli because of his age and was considering a replacement for him given the fact that he turns 38 during the 2020 qualifying campaign.

Thirteen other players have also been left out of the squad because of injuries or technical choices, including playmaker Ledian Memushaj who is suffering a red card suspension following last November's friendly with Turkey whom 10-man Albania surprised with an away victory.

Currently, four of Albania’s top players are not in their best shape due to few playing opportunities with their own clubs.

Albania's key striker of the past few years, Armando Sadiku, has been having a tough time during the past year after leaving Switzerland and playing for half a season with Poland's Legia Warsaw before moving to Spain's Levante where he has not been a first attacking choice since joining in late January 2018.

Forward Sokol Cikalleshi has also been struggling to make the starting lineup with Turkey’s Osmanlispor, currently in the relegation zone of the Turkish top league.

Defender Mergim Mavraj, who has also served as Albania’s captain in few occasions, has also lost his place with Hamburger who this year face a real relegation threat ranking bottom in the German Bundesliga.

Ledian Memushaj is also no longer a first choice for relegation-bound Benevento in Italy’s Serie A. However, several other Albania national side players in the Italian top league, including Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj and Lazio and Atalanta goalkeepers, have been shining this year.

"I can say that we have established the core of the team with 20 players. The team is getting shaped and until next June, I will test players aged between 26 to 28 who will be the core," Panucci said.

 

Norway test 

 Albania will play Norway at the Elbasan Arena stadium on Monday, March 26 at 19:00 local time.

Norway are a team that Albania have played four times in the past two decades in the Euro and World Cup qualification campaigns, having won one game and drawn twice.

In the March FIFA ranking, Norway lost one place to rank 57th while Albania climbed one step to 58th out of 206 national sides globally.

Norway take on Albania following a 1-0 away injury time loss to Slovakia while Albania stunned Turkey with 3-2 away victory in last November’s friendlies.

Both Albania and Norway failed to make it the 2020 Russia World Cup.

 

Nations League opportunity

Albania have been drawn against Scotland and Israel in the maiden UEFA Nations League, in the sole League C group that features three teams.

Albania will start the campaign on Sept. 7, 2018 when they host Israel, a team Albania first faced in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with both sides managing to get 3-0 away victories in their two-legged encounters, but Albania finishing third in a tough group campaign dominated by Spain and Italy.

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, but having failed to reach a major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

Albania travel to Scotland on Sept. 10, three days after playing Israel, to conclude their first-leg Nations League fixtures. The second leg-games will be away to Israel on Oct. 14 and at home to Scotland on Nov. 17.

Coach Christian Panucci has earlier described the Nations League group as balanced, but said 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.

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.

Chances for Albania and other contenders to make it to the 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.

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

 

Panucci’s lead

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.

Panucci has led Albania in five games since taking over in mid-2017, winning a World Cup qualifier against modest Liechtenstein and a friendly against Turkey, but losing to European superpowers Spain and Italy and drawing against neighboring Macedonia.

His lineup has been more offensive compared to the De Biasi era.

Panucci’s managerial experience started in 2012 when he served as assistant to Fabio Capello, one of the greatest Italian coaches, when he was leading the Russian national side. Panucci also managed Serie B sides Livorno, Ternana before taking over as Albania’s coach.

 

 
                    [post_title] => Albania coach worried over key players’ condition ahead of Norway friendly
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 5 – Former Albania international Igli Tare says he is happy with Lazio in Italy’s Serie A where he ended his career as a professional striker in 2008 and has been serving as the club’s sporting director for about a decade now.

Speaking in an interview with Italy’s Corriere Dello Sport, Tare, who in early 2018 was voted Italy’s best sporting director, said he would quit his current job only if he is offered to become the Albanian national side’s coach.

"If one day I become a coach, I will coach Albania and not a club. I have received offers from different clubs, but I can't think of myself away from Lazio which is a creature I have been growing with for 13 years and remains in my heart," says the 44-year-old Albanian who played in Germany and Italy top leagues from the early 1990s after growing up as a player with Tirana-based Partizani.

Currently, Christian Panucci, a former AC Milan and Real Madrid defender, is Albania’s coach, having succeeding Gianni De Biasi who resigned in mid-2017 following a historic five-year spell with the national side who in 2016 claimed their first ever major appearance at an international competition such as the Euro 2016.

The former Albanian international has received acclaim for his ability to scout talent with Lazio's Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic currently sought after by some top clubs in Spain and England willing to spend €100 million on the playmaker. The 22-year-old Serbian joined Lazio in mid-2015 for a bargain of about €9 million after Tare managed to convince the player to leave Belgium’s Genk and sign a new contract with Lazio.

"What makes a sporting director skilled is first of all how to turn an unknown player into famous. Observing players is not enough for that, you need to talk to them," says Tare, who was capped for Albania 68 times for a decade until 2008 and managed to score ten goals.

"I was in Vojvodina and observed Savic thanks to a friend of mine. He was as tall as me, technically good and a talent, but I couldn't guarantee he would play as much as he deserved. I monitored him at Genk for several months and then went to pick him," Tare said about contacts with Milinkovic-Savic, on whom Lazio say they have already rejected offers of about €70 million.

Thomas Strakosha is now the only Albanian player with Lazio after the departure of national side’s goalkeeper Etrit Berisha and former Albanian captain Lorik Cana in the past few years.

The 22-year-old who was also brought to Lazio by Igli Tare is now a regular starter and one of the club's strengths.

Lazio are currently fourth in the Serie A, trailing arch rivals Roma by one point but 17 points behind leaders Napoli.

 
                    [post_title] => Lazio sporting director says he could leave only if he becomes Albania’s coach
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135918" align="alignright" width="300"]skenderbeu 2 "Don't kill our dream," "We live football, We love Skenderbeu," "Our city is not a threat, our city wants justice," Skenderbeu, our dream" were some of the slogans fans carried during the march in Korça, the southeastern Albanian city known as the “the little Paris of Albania.” Photo: KF Skenderbeu[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 22 – Thousands of fans packed Korça’s main boulevard this week in a peaceful march to protest and petition against UEFA disciplinary proceedings that could see Skenderbeu banned for up to ten years from European competition on match-fixing allegations.

"Don't kill our dream," "We live football, We love Skenderbeu," "Our city is not a threat, our city wants justice,"   Skenderbeu, our dream" were some of the slogans fans carried during the march in Korça, the southeastern Albanian city known as the “the little Paris of Albania,” and where football has been one of the main city entertainment in the past decade following Skenderbeu’s domination of the national championship and its two historic appearances at the Europa League group stage.

In a petition to European football's governing body, UEFA, Skenderbeu fans say punishing their club means punishing a whole city and a success story in Albanian football in the past few years.

"In the past eight years, Skenderbeu has been the city's happiness. Football is more than a game for Korça, it's believing. In Korça, everybody has believed and believes in fair play from this team which has won six national championships and appeared twice at the Europa League,” reads the petition.

"Skenderbeu was founded in 1909 but managed to join the European family only in 2015, making a dream come true for us," the petition says referring to Skenderbeu's debut Europa League group stage appearance, the first by an Albanian club.

Petitioners say punishing Skenderbeu, a club named after Albania's national hero Skanderbeg whose 550th death anniversary this year, Albania is marking as the Pan-national Skanderbeg Year, would also be a severe blow to Skanderbeg's figure.

“Help us progress in this European path! Don't punish us!,” concludes the petition.

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.

Skenderbeu have denied any match-fixing allegations, saying the probe into the club 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.
                    [post_title] => Thousands petition UEFA against Skenderbeu’s disciplinary proceedings
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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.
                    [post_title] => Albania’s sole Europa League contenders face 10-year ban threat over match-fixing
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_136585" align="alignright" width="300"]Elseid Hysaj Elseid Hysaj[/caption]

TIRANA, April 2 – Albania’s Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj is reportedly holding fresh talks with Italian Serie A side Napoli who seem willing to extend his contract and increase his release clause as the 24-year-old Albania international has become the target of top English Premier League clubs.

Italian media say Napoli are mulling offering the Albanian fullback, regarded as one of the world’s best defenders, a two-year contract extension until 2023 and raise his release clause from a current €50 million to €80 million amid reports that Manchester United and Arsenal are willing to pay for his transfer.

Hysaj has been playing Napoli since 2015 when he moved from Empoli for a mere €5 million fee, turning into a regular starter and helping Napoli rival for a long-awaited Serie A title.

With seven games remaining, Napoli rank second in the Serie A for this season, trailing leaders Juventus by only four points and with a comfortable 16-point lead over third and fourth-placed Lazio and Roma.

Albania’s most sought-after player has been capped 37 times for the national side since his 2013 debut with a key contribution to Albania’s first-ever appearance in a major international tournament such as the Euro 2016.

He recently made it to the top 500 players on the UK's World Soccer" magazine, joining former Albania internationals Lorik Cana and Shkelzen Gashi as well as current Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka whose Arsenal playmaker brother plays for Switzerland.  In the opening group stage match at the Euro 2016 in France, the Xhakas they became the first two brothers to face each other for different national sides in a European competition.

“Elseid Hysaj is an attacking right-back who helped Albania qualify for Euro 2016 and is now an important figure in Napoli's Serie A," says the Magazine in its April issue.

Hysaj grew up as a player in Italy where he moved when he was 14.

Several other Albania internationals play in Italy’s Serie A including Lazio and Atalanta goalkeepers Thomas Strakosha and Etrit Berisha.
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