Top politician expected to challenge Duka in his fifth-term bid in charge of Albanian football

Top politician expected to challenge Duka in his fifth-term bid in charge of Albanian football

TIRANA, Jan. 9 – A top left-wing politician is expected to challenge Albania’s current Football Association President Armand Duka as he seeks a fifth consecutive four-year term in next February’s elections. Bashkim Fino, a 55-year-old experienced politician, who also served

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2017 Sport in review

2017 Sport in review

 March  Izmir Smajlaj claims first ever European indoor gold medal  Izmir Smajlaj was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships as he jumped 8.08 metres to break his own national record, beating Swedish favourite Michel Torneus. The

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Albania’s most successful club on track to make Superliga comeback

Albania’s most successful club on track to make Superliga comeback

TIRANA, Dec. 19 – Albania’s historically most successful club seem on track to make a Superliga comeback next year following an embarrassing first-ever relegation in their almost century-long history in the top flight of the Albanian Superliga. Having played their

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Albania’s best striker not shining yet in Poland

Albania’s best striker not shining yet in Poland

TIRANA, Dec. 14 – Albania’s most powerful striker of the moment Armando Sadiku says he is happy with Legia Warsaw in Poland despite not being a first attacking choice in the past couple of months and is not thinking of

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Cash-strapped Vllaznia looking for investors to return competitive to Albanian Superliga

Cash-strapped Vllaznia looking for investors to return competitive to Albanian Superliga

TIRANA, Dec. 11 – One of Albania’s most successful football clubs is heading for privatization after a failed six-year spell as a wholly local government-owned club. Northern Albania Shkodra-based Vllaznia club managed by the local Shkodra municipality has announced it

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Romela Begaj claims gold at U.S. weightlifting tournament

Romela Begaj claims gold at U.S. weightlifting tournament

TIRANA, Dec. 5 – Romela Begaj has become Albania’s first ever world champion in women’s weightlifting and Albania’s second athlete to claim a world championships gold meal. The 31-year-old Albanian won gold in the snatch with 107 kg and silver

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Europa League: Home win against Dynamo Kiev not enough for Albania’s Skenderbeu to advance to knockout stage

Europa League: Home win against Dynamo Kiev not enough for Albania’s Skenderbeu to advance to knockout stage

TIRANA, Nov. 24 – Albania’s Skenderbeu bid adieu to their Europa League knockout stage qualification dream on Thursday night despite claiming a deserved home win against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv, their first in the first five group stage games. In a

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Albanian Superliga: Partizani beat reigning champions to gain momentum after sacking former Juventus player

Albanian Superliga: Partizani beat reigning champions to gain momentum after sacking former Juventus player

TIRANA, Nov. 20 – Partizani came from behind to beat reigning champions Kukes 2-1 on Monday and claim victory after a three-game losing streak and one of the poorest championship starts that saw former Juventus defender Mark Iuliano sacked as

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Ten-man Albania surprise Turkey with 3-2 away victory

Ten-man Albania surprise Turkey with 3-2 away victory

TIRANA, Nov. 14 – Albania beat Turkey 3-2 in a surprise away victory as the Red & Blacks played in 10 men for most of the time after playmaker Ledian Memushaj was sent off with a second yellow card just

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Albania play Turkey in friendly test ahead of Nations League, Euro 2020 qualifiers

Albania play Turkey in friendly test ahead of Nations League, Euro 2020 qualifiers

Tirana, Nov. 13 – Albania will play away to Turkey tonight in a friendly that is seen as a test for the national side and coach Christian Pannuci as the Red & Blacks prepare for their Euro 2020 bid. The

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135270" align="alignright" width="300"]Socialist Party MP Bashkim Fino  Socialist Party MP Bashkim Fino[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 9 - A top left-wing politician is expected to challenge Albania's current Football Association President Armand Duka as he seeks a fifth consecutive four-year term in next February's elections.

Bashkim Fino, a 55-year-old experienced politician, who also served as a short-term consensual Prime Minister of the country during the 1997 turmoil triggered by the collapse of some pyramid investment schemes, is known for his passion for football and is often seen on stadiums attending matches.

Although not having confirmed or denied his ambition yet, several politicians and football club presidents have come out in support of his candidacy and his name is rumored as the sole rival that can challenge experienced Duka.

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

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

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

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

The race is expected to be tough if Fino enters the race but a child’s game if Duka runs alone.

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

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

New coach Christian Panucci, the successor of Gianni De Biasi, has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target following his good start with the national side since taking over in mid-2017.
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                    [post_content] =>  March

 Izmir Smajlaj claims first ever European indoor gold medal

 Izmir Smajlaj was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships as he jumped 8.08 metres to break his own national record, beating Swedish favourite Michel Torneus.

The gold medal, the first ever for Albania at a European indoor event, came soon after the 23-year-old champion claimed gold for Albania at the Balkan Indoor, a test event for Belgrade’s European Indoor Championships.

Speaking to reporters after the victory, Smajlaj said the gold medal was a dream come true for him.

 

May 

Minnows Kukes claim first Superliga title

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 as they beat rivals Skenderbeu amid controversy to claim their first championship in their penultimate game.

With Skenderbeu in 9-men for about 30 minutes, it wasCroatian striker 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.

 

Tirana relegated after a century in top flight

 Albania’s historically most successful club, FK Tirana, was relegated after almost a century in the top flight of Albania’s national football, irritating dozens of thousands of fans and club legends over the poor management of the 24-times record holder champions.

The relegation came after Tirana failed to win its do-or-die fixture against Vllaznia after the White & Blues were held to goalless draw in the closing Superliga tie, plunging Tirana to the First Division.  Both teams, two of the eldest and best in Albanian football history, faced the relegation threat in case of losing, but could have also secured their stay in the top flight with a draw had Laçi not beaten unmotivated Teuta in the closing Superliga week.

Tirana’s relegation comes following a series of losses in the championship’s second stage and amid financial problems with the world’s football governing body, FIFA, banning the Albanian club from the winter transfer window in punishment for debts to players. The country’s most successful club also lacked the support of its “Tirona Fanatics,” the club’s strongest supporters, who have been boycotting the club’s matches since last March in protest for the club’s poor performance and a decision by the club’s owners to allow arch rivals Partizani play their home matches at Tirana’s stadium.

 

June 

De Biasi unexpectedly resigns as Albania coach

Gianni De Biasi officially resigned as Albania coach in an unexpected decision after he earlier announced he would be leaving Albania by October 2017 at the end of the World Cup qualification campaign when his contract expires.

The decision comes at a time when Albania made a turning point with a 3-0 away victory with Israel after a shameful five-game losing streak the national side had not experienced in more than a decade.

"I have long thought and meditated and would like to inform you that as of today I will no longer be the coach of our national side. I will stop here because I want the team's best and its growth. I think I have fulfilled my duty which allowed me get from these guys those qualities that in the recent past enabled us to live the European Dream," De Biasi said with tears in his eyes, reading a farewell letter.

The former Torino and Udinese boss who also obtained Albanian citizenship in 2015, managed to take Albania to a first-ever major competition such as Euro 2016.

 

First Albanian woman climbs Everest

Uta Ibrahimi has become the first Albanian woman to climb Everest, the world’s highest peak of 8,848 meters and every climber’s lifetime dream.

The 33-year Kosovo climber reached the Everest summit on May 22, when she unfolded a scarf with the Kosovo and Albanian flags.

The 33-year-old Kosovo climber described climbing Everest as her best life experience.

"I am so happy to bring Albanian and Kosovo flag on top of the world as the first Albanian woman. Thanks for your support and love that made this expedition much easier and enjoyable... and my hero-climbing partner Tendi Sherpa Utalaya," wrote Ibrahimi, a climber based in Prishtina, the Kosovo capital city, where she runs an outdoor adventure travel agency.

The Kosovo-Albanian climber undertook the challenge after having earlier climbed the 4,880m Mount Blanc and reached the 5,925m Ramdug Peak in the Himalayas.

She was picked by the Tirana-based Dajti Alpine-Tourist Association as the first Albanian woman to undertake this tough challenge due to having the required physical and psychological condition.

 

July 

Euro 2020 qualification target set for new Albania coach

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

The former 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender said he wanted to follow in De Biasi’s footsteps.

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

The 44-year old has little experience as a manager, but his young age and modest financial criteria seem to have led to a deal. 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 in the past couple of years.

“It was quite easy for me as being Albania’s coach is really prestigious and an important opportunity,” said Panucci.

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

 

October

Albania conclude World Cup qualifying campaign

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 later lost their play-off against Sweden failing to qualify for the World Cup tournament for the first time in six decades.

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

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.

 

November

Ten-man Albania surprise Turkey with away victory

Albania beat Turkey 3-2 in a surprise away victory as the Red & Blacks played in 10 men for most of the time after playmaker Ledian Memushaj was sent off with a second yellow card just before the first half.

A double by Legia Warsaw striker Armando Sadiku gave Albania a comfortable first half lead, but down to 10 men from the 41st minute Albania suffered in the second half and had to defend almost all the time to curb Turkey’s numerical superiority.

The friendly was a test for the national side as it prepares for the Euro 2020 qualifiers having failed to make it to the World Cup finishing third in a tough group stage that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy.

 

Home win against Dynamo Kiev not enough for Skenderbeu

Albania’s Skenderbeu bid adieu to their Europa League knockout stage qualification dream despite claiming a deserved home win against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv, their first in the first five group stage games.

In a home encounter played behind closed doors following UEFA punishment over crowd trouble, Skenderbeu came from behind to beat the Group B leaders 3-2 and avenge their first leg defeat against Ukraine’s toughest side.

However, Skenderbeu’s victory was downgraded by Partizan’s Belgrade’s home victory against Swiss Young Boys as the Serbians managed to maintain their three-point lead over the Albanian club with one final game to go. The Serbian club have now mathematically secured their qualification to the next stage on a better head-to-head record having claimed a home victory against Skenderbeu and drawn in their first-leg encounter.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 19 - Albania's historically most successful club seem on track to make a Superliga comeback next year following an embarrassing first-ever relegation in their almost century-long history in the top flight of the Albanian Superliga.

Having played their first eleven games in the First Division, Tirana top Group B with 28 points, with a seven-point lead over second placed Bylis who have a game in hand, and are also making a good performance in the Albanian Cup having made it to the quarter final.

The Albanian Cup reigning champions recently avenged Superliga team Vllaznia for their relegation decider in last season’s final Superliga fixture to win 2-1 on aggregate and progress to the Cup’s quarter final to face Superliga reigning champions Kukes.

However, the road to promotion is still a long way and Tirana will have to play seven other games to complete the first two stages of its Group B where Bylis are the toughest team, already having surprised the Blue-Whites with a 1-0 away victory in early November.

As the first two stages of its Group B matches complete in late February 2018, Tirana will have to play another play-off stage that sees the top five clubs in both First Division groups contest each other for two promotion places in the Albanian Superliga.

Coach Ze Maria, a former Brazilian international who spent most of his career as a right back with Italian clubs until the mid-2000s, has been in charge since last June facing the tough task of making it to the Albanian Superliga and bringing back irritated fans to the stadium.

"When I first came the situation was a bit problematic as there were players who wanted to leave and others joining. We hope to be back in the Superliga next year. It will not be easy and we are working on this," Ze Maria has said.

"I have tried to explain to the players that wearing the Tirana shirt and regaining the fans' trust is not easy," says the Brazilian, who previously trained teams in Italy and Kenya before joining Tirana.

Tirana have claimed the Albanian Superliga a record 24 times and won the Albania Cup 16 times, but have been poorly performing in the past seven years which have been dominated by Skenderbeu, a club which is making history in Albanian football, having made two Europa League group stage appearances in the past three years.

Financial problems and a boycott by its "Tirana Fanatics" marred Tirana's performance in the previous season following a good start.

The club's majority 66 percent stake is owned by Refik Halili, a traditional sponsor of Tirana and the remaining minority stake by the Municipality of Tirana.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 14 - Albania's most powerful striker of the moment Armando Sadiku says he is happy with Legia Warsaw in Poland despite not being a first attacking choice in the past couple of months and is not thinking of moving to a new club without proving his quality.

"It's the coach's choice and I have to accept it. However, I am waiting for my chance so that I can do my best on the pitch," Sadiku has told an Albanian sports portal.

The 26-year-old striker who has scored 11 goals with the national side helping Albania achieve a first-ever qualification in a major tournament such as Euro 2016 moved to Legia Warsaw, one Poland’s most successful clubs, last summer on a three-year contract following a six-year spell in Switzerland.

Sadiku, who during the past few weeks has been fielded as a second-half substitute for Polish striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda, has so far played 24 games for Legia since joining last July but scored only seven goals, four of which in the Polish Cup, one in the Champions League qualifying campaign and only two in 16 Polish league appearances.

The player says there is no flaw with Croatian coach Romeo Jozak and he is right to keep the same line-up as long as the team is doing well.

"I have to admit that there is no flaw with coach Romeo Jozak and relations are very good. Of course, it is difficult for me to accept being on the bench considering that I still have to prove my quality as I have done with the national side," says Sadiku.

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

Sadiku also scored Albania's sole goal in the Euro 2016 group stage games as Albania beat Romania 1-0 but failed to make it the knockout stage.

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

"Legia is one of Poland's greatest clubs and the best organized I have to admit. That's why I made my choice without thinking twice. When I first came, it was a surprise for me as I had never played in front of such fiery supporters. But we are having a good moment and the fans have calmed down. It is a great club and the biggest weekend entertainment in town," Sadiku says.

With 20 games played, Poland's reigning champions Legia Warsaw have a 2-point lead over second placed Gornik Zabrze and Jagiellonia and are considered favorites to win the Ekstraklasa, Poland’s top league, for a third straight season.

"I feel well and have had no difficulty, but now I have to show a little patience in order to play more minutes. I don’t want to leave Legia without showing what I am able to do," he adds.

Speaking about Albania’s national side under coach Christian Panucci, Sadiku says Albania is doing well and becoming more offensive compared to the Gianni De Biasi era.

"I am very confident. We showed what we can do in the match with Turkey when we played a very good game and proved we have grown up as team and that every gathering is useful," says Sadiku.

The Turkey friendly, which Albania won 3-2 was one of the few Albania can play ahead of the late 2018 maiden UEFA Nations League and the European qualifiers.

"The situation seems to be getting better and we are becoming a compact team. Coach Panucci has introduced a new spirit and the team plays with a more offensive line-up and an extra attacker compared to De Biasi. I believe that has helped the team and the new players who have been called up and I think that is something positive. I am looking forward to the qualifiers, but we first have to learn about our opponents in the draw and then think of each match," he says.

Albania has been lined up in League C of the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

The national side failed to make it to the Russia 2018 World Cup after finishing third in a tough group stage that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy, the latter failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades after losing a play-off with Sweden.

A former AC Milan, Real Madrid defender whose Albania job is his first experience as a national side manager, coach Christian Panucci has claimed two victories against Liechtenstein and Turkey but lost key qualifiers against Spain and Italy since succeeding Gianni De Biasi last July. Italian veteran quit after a successful five and a half-year spell in charge of the Red and Blacks after managing to take Albania to the Euro 2016 and failing to make another surprise qualification for the World Cup.

His successor Christian Panucci has been tasked with qualifying Albania for the Euro 2020 in what would be a second appearance at a major tournament for the national side.
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                    [post_date] => 2017-12-11 14:30:03
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 11 - One of Albania's most successful football clubs is heading for privatization after a failed six-year spell as a wholly local government-owned club.

Northern Albania Shkodra-based Vllaznia club managed by the local Shkodra municipality has announced it is looking for a consultant that will evaluate the club’s assets and prepare the documentation for an action to sell the club’s shares, likely to take place in early 2018.

The privatization process comes at a time when the club’s financial situation has been sharply deteriorating and Vllaznia, one of the elite clubs of Albania’s top flight football have not been competitive in the past few years and during the last season hardly managed to escape what would have been their first ever relegation in their 87-year history.

The situation remains critical even this year when Vllaznia find themselves in the relegation zone and trail leaders Skenderbeu by 19 points in the first 14 games of the Albanian Superliga.

Vllaznia are also almost out of the Albanian Cup competition after losing their first-leg game 2-0 against Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club which is playing in the First Division for the first time this season. Tirana were demoted last season in a final championship decider against Vllaznia which escaped relegation following a goalless draw.

Vllaznia’s privatization also comes amid anger and protests by local fans against the club’s critical situation and reports that players are unmotivated due to the municipality failing to pay them in time as a result of problems with accumulated debts.

"We wouldn’t like the municipality of Shkodra to be sole owner in the football club, but have as many shareholders as possible," Shkodra Mayor Voltana Ademi has earlier said.

"We will continue to support Vllaznia until the privatization is carried out. That is an institutional, political but also personal will of mine of supporting the club until it falls into private hands,” she has said.

According to a document published on the Shkodra municipality's website, the club's losses were at an average of 51 million lek (€380,000) annually from 2011 to 2015 when the municipality was the sole owner of Vllaznia following the withdrawal of its private sponsors and shareholders.

The assets of the club which has won nine championship titles and six Albanian Cups were estimated at 258 million lek (about €2 million) in 2015, but that does not include its renovated stadium.

Shkodra's 16,000-seat ‘Loro Borici’ stadium was renovated in 2016 and also  hosts the national side's home matches and those of neighboring Kosovo which has yet to build a stadium meeting international standards after it was admitted as a FIFA and UEFA member in 2016 and played its first World Cup qualifying campaign.

The municipality of Shkodra, the largest local government unit in northern Albania, says annual losses Vllaznia incurs have seriously hampered local public finances and expects the club's privatization to strip Shkodra taxpayers of financing a company with huge losses and make a concrete investment with its sale revenues.

Albania’s top flight clubs are partly local investor and mostly municipal-owned.

The country’s Superliga clubs have made huge progress in the past few years with Skenderbeu making it to the Europa League group stage twice in the past three years, but failing to progress to the knockout stage.

However, only few Albanian Superliga players are called up for the national side which failed to make it to the 2018 World Cup after a debut appearance in France’s Euro 2016.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 5 - Romela Begaj has become Albania's first ever world champion in women's weightlifting and Albania's second athlete to claim a world championships gold meal.

The 31-year-old Albanian won gold in the snatch with 107 kg and silver in total with 235 kg after finishing fifth in the clean and jerk with 128 kg. She competed in the women's 69 kg at the IWF World championships in the U.S. last weekend.

“Begaj showed once again that she is a champion, reconfirming her values and unveiling that higher and higher results can be achieved through hard work. The Albanian sport and she should be proud of raising the Albanian flag again in international competitions," said Viron Bezhani, the head of the Albanian National Olympic Committee.

Begaj has represented Albania twice at the Summer Olympic Games and managed to finish sixth in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She was banned to participate at the Rio 2016 Olympics after being suspended over doping in 2014 at the Kazakhstan World Weightlifting Championships where she was stripped of her gold medal in snatch.

Among other Albanian weightlifter competing at the U.S. tournament, Erkand Qerimaj finished sixth overall in the men's 77 kg category.

Weightlifting has traditionally been Albania’s best performing Olympic discipline at international competitions.

In 1972, late Ymer Pampuri set a world record at the Munich Olympic Games for the press at featherweight lifting 127.5 kg, finishing ninth overall following an injury. Pampuri who died in early 2017 at 73 has since been a world record holder in the clean and press which later in 1972 was removed from competition due to difficulties in judging proper technique and health concerns.
                    [post_title] => Romela Begaj claims gold at U.S. weightlifting tournament
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                    [post_date] => 2017-11-24 12:05:36
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 24 – Albania's Skenderbeu bid adieu to their Europa League knockout stage qualification dream on Thursday night despite claiming a deserved home win against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv, their first in the first five group stage games.

In a home encounter played behind closed doors following UEFA punishment over crowd trouble, Skenderbeu came from behind to beat the Group B leaders 3-2 and avenge their first leg defeat against Ukraine’s toughest side.

An early equalizer by Albanian playmaker Sabien Lilaj and two second half goals by Nigerian striker James and Gambian forward Sowe gave the Albanian 'Snow Wolves" a comfortable lead 3-1 lead until injury time when they risked getting punished after the Ukrainians narrowed Skenderbeu's lead and wasted a golden opportunity just before the final whistle.

Skenderbeu’s victory was downgraded by Partizan's Belgrade's home victory against Swiss Young Boys as the Serbians managed to maintain their three-point lead over the Albanian club with one final game to go. The Serbian club have now mathematically secured their qualification to the next stage on a better head-to-head record having claimed a home victory against Skenderbeu and drawn in their first-leg encounter.

Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv have also mathematically secured their qualification to the knockout stage with a two-point lead over Partizan Belgrade whom they host in their final group stage game and can manage even with a home draw to keep their group lead.

Already having a two-point lead over Young Boys, Skenderbeu need at least a draw when they play the Swiss on December 7 to maintain their third place in group B following a 1-1 first leg home draw.

Skenderbeu returned 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.

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.

Albania’s most successful club of the past decade seem unrivaled in this year's Albanian Superliga with a comfortable lead over main rivals Kukes and Partizani in the first eleven games.
                    [post_title] => Europa League: Home win against Dynamo Kiev not enough for Albania's Skenderbeu to advance to knockout stage
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 20 - Partizani came from behind to beat reigning champions Kukes 2-1 on Monday and claim victory after a three-game losing streak and one of the poorest championship starts that saw former Juventus defender Mark Iuliano sacked as manager in early November.

Two first-half goals by midfielders Jurgen Bardhi and Gerhard Progni gave Partizani a priceless 2-1 away against first-time Albanian reigning champions Kukes who failed to preserve their early lead after being punished for defensive blunders.

An early penalty kick which Kukes later converted saw new Partizani coach, Albanian experienced coach Sulejman Starova, sent off with a red card for protests against the referee.

Starova, who has led Tirana-based Partizani for most of the time in the past couple of years, was on his second match as Partizani coach this season, replacing Mark Iuliano who claimed only three victories in nine championship games, proving a disaster for one of the most successful Albanian clubs who have been waiting for more than two decades for a comeback as Superliga champions.

A suggestion by former Juventus managing director Lucciano Moggi who has been an adviser to Partizani president Gazmend Demi since late April 2017, little experienced manager Iuliano failed to impress with the Reds and was immediately sacked after losing 1-0 to newly promoted Kamza in early November.

Eighty-year-old Italian transfer guru Moggi, who is suffering a lifetime ban from Italian football for his role in the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal 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.

With eleven games played, but 25 others to go, Partizani who finished second last year, rank 6th in the 10-team Albanian Superliga with 14 points so far, trailing leaders Skenderbeu by 13 points and having already received a major blow to their title hopes with the target now being a top three finish and the Albanian Cup which can secure participation in European competitions.

Meanwhile, Skenderbeu, Albania's most successful club of the past decade who are making their second UEFA Europa League appearance, seem unrivalled in the title race this season, with a seven-point lead over second-placed Vlora-based Flamurtari, which is the surprise team so far, and with bigger advantage over main rivals Kukes and Partizani.

Skenderbeu’s hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the UEFA Europa League received a major setback in early November as Albania’s most successful club of the past decade were beaten 2-0 by Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade in an away encounter held under tight security measures.

Skenderbeu will play at home against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv on Nov. 23 before concluding their group stage away to Switzerland’s Young Boys on December 7 in its final group stage matches.

Having suffered an embarrassing first-ever relegation last season, record 24-times Superliga champions led by Brazilian coach De Maria lead Group B of the First Division but with only a three-point advantage over second-placed Bylis who surprised them with a 1-0 away defeat in early November.
                    [post_title] => Albanian Superliga: Partizani beat reigning champions to gain momentum after sacking former Juventus player
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 14 - Albania beat Turkey 3-2 in a surprise away victory as the Red & Blacks played in 10 men for most of the time after playmaker Ledian Memushaj was sent off with a second yellow card just before the first half.

A double by Legia Warsaw striker Armando Sadiku gave Albania a comfortable first half lead, but down to 10 men from the 41st minute Albania suffered in the second half and had to defend almost all the time to curb Turkey’s numerical superiority.

Winger Eros Grezda was the national side's hero as he claimed his first national side goal to give 10-men Albania a temporary 3-1 lead before Turkey scored another goal to make it 3-2.

Right winger Odise Roshi was also decisive in the first half as he served striker Sadiku twice to increase his goal tally to 11.

The friendly was a test for the national side as it prepares for the Euro 2020 qualifiers having failed to make it to the World Cup finishing third in a tough group stage that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy.

Coach Christian Pannuci fielded five players in the 25 minutes with AEK Athens attacking midfielder Astrit Ajdarevic and defensive midfielder Kamar Qaka who plays in the Romanian top league, both of whom Kosovo-born players, making their Albania debut.

Speaking after the match, coach Pannuci who claimed his first victory against a tough opponent since take over Albania last July, said the team played a great match, especially in the second half when they were down to ten men.

"The way how we achieved the victory is more important than the victory itself. I am very happy for the way the guys are perceiving what I want," said Pannuci, a former AC Milan, Real Madrid defender whose Albania job is his first experience as a national side manager after serving as assistant to Fabio Capello, one of the greatest Italian coaches, when he led the Russian national side from 2012 to 2014.

Turkey, who also failed to make it to the World Cup, have been facing tough times under Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu, having won only one out of last six games since last August.
                    [post_title] => Ten-man Albania surprise Turkey with 3-2 away victory
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                    [post_date] => 2017-11-13 12:02:51
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                    [post_content] => Tirana, Nov. 13 - Albania will play away to Turkey tonight in a friendly that is seen as a test for the national side and coach Christian Pannuci as the Red & Blacks prepare for their Euro 2020 bid.

The Turkey friendly is the first the national side is playing after concluding their World Cup qualifying campaign last October when the national side finished third in a tough group stage that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy.

Coach Pannuci has called up two new players for the friendly, bringing the number of new players joining the national side to six since he took over as Albania’s coach in mid-2017 and heralding a new era after the departure of his compatriot Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to a first ever major competition debut such as Euro 2016 during his five-year spell.

The 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience has called up two Kosovo born-players for the Turkey friendly, 27-year-old AEK Athens attacking midfielder Astrit Ajdarevic and 21-year-old defensive midfielder Ylber Ramadani who plays Vejle Boldklub in the Danish First Division.

Pannuci had earlier called up Emanuele Ndoj, a much promising Italy-born and raised 20-year-old central midfielder playing Brescia in Italy’s Serie B and Macedonia-born Valon Ahmedi, an attacking midfielder for Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful club, who are yet to make their Albania debut.

Spain-born defender of Albanian origin Ivan Balliu and Albania-born Italy-raised left back Hysen Memolla who plays for Croatia’s Hajduk Split made their unsuccessful national side debut last October against Spain when they were replaced from the beginning of the second half as Albania was thrashed 3-0 in 27 minutes.

"We will continue to look for new players to strengthen our team. We are working to have a solid group for the next European qualifiers," Pannuci has said.

Coach Christian Pannuci was set a Euro 2020 qualification task as he succeeded Italian compatriot Gianni De Biasi in mid-2017 and led the national side in their last four World Cup qualifiers.

Under his lead, Albania easily beat modest Liechtenstein, got a hard-earned draw against Macedonia, but was thrashed 3-0 by group leaders Spain and narrowly lost 1-0 in the final home qualifier with Italy to finish third in the Group G of the qualifiers.

Two of Albania's best players, Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj and Legia Warsaw striker Armando Sadiku have described the friendly with Turkey as a fixture that helps the team to get consolidated and the newcomers to familiarize.

Turkey, who also failed to make it to the World Cup, have been facing tough times under Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu, having won only one out of last five games since last August.

Albania and Turkey have played each other three times before with Albania winning one friendly away to Turkey in 2001 and Turkey claiming two World Cup qualifier victories in 2005.

The Turkey friendly is one of the few Albania can play ahead of the late 2018 maiden UEFA Nations League and the European qualifiers.

Albania has been lined up in League C of the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

In a four-league competition based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the European football’s governing body has placed Albania in League C mostly featuring South-East Europe national sides with Serbia and Greece as the toughest sides.

 
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135270" align="alignright" width="300"]Socialist Party MP Bashkim Fino  Socialist Party MP Bashkim Fino[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 9 - A top left-wing politician is expected to challenge Albania's current Football Association President Armand Duka as he seeks a fifth consecutive four-year term in next February's elections.

Bashkim Fino, a 55-year-old experienced politician, who also served as a short-term consensual Prime Minister of the country during the 1997 turmoil triggered by the collapse of some pyramid investment schemes, is known for his passion for football and is often seen on stadiums attending matches.

Although not having confirmed or denied his ambition yet, several politicians and football club presidents have come out in support of his candidacy and his name is rumored as the sole rival that can challenge experienced Duka.

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

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

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

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

The race is expected to be tough if Fino enters the race but a child’s game if Duka runs alone.

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

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

New coach Christian Panucci, the successor of Gianni De Biasi, has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target following his good start with the national side since taking over in mid-2017.
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