Albania almost out of Nations League after shock defeat to Israel

Albania almost out of Nations League after shock defeat to Israel

TIRANA, Oct. 15 – Albania are almost out of the Nations League following an away loss to Israel and only a mathematical miracle at the closing game with Scotland could see them top their group and keep alive their hopes

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Albania held to goalless draw by Jordan ahead of Israel qualifier

Albania held to goalless draw by Jordan ahead of Israel qualifier

TIRANA, Oct. 11 – Albania were held to a goalless home draw in a warm-up against Jordan on Wednesday night ahead of their second-leg Nations League qualifier away to Israel in what is expected to be a decisive game to

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Albania to play warm-up game against Jordan ahead of Israel Nations League qualifier

Albania to play warm-up game against Jordan ahead of Israel Nations League qualifier

TIRANA, Sept. 10 – Albania will play a warm-up game home to Jordan before heading to Israel for the second-leg Nations League qualifier. The home friendly, scheduled for Oct. 10 is a key test before Albania takes on Israel four

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European competition banned Skenderbeu remain Albanian Superliga favorites

European competition banned Skenderbeu remain Albanian Superliga favorites

TIRANA, Sept. 20 – Albania’s reigning champions Skenderbeu have made a good start this season and are favorites to win again despite their future depending on a decision by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport after they were handed a

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Panucci under fire again as Scotland loss reopens old wounds for Albania

Panucci under fire again as Scotland loss reopens old wounds for Albania

TIRANA, Sept. 11 – Albania lost 2-0 to Scotland on Monday in an away Nations League qualifier that reopened old wounds for the national side and coach Christian Panucci whose losing streak as Albania coach since taking over in mid-2017

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Nations League: Albania face Scotland after opening hard-earned win over Israel

Nations League: Albania face Scotland after opening hard-earned win over Israel

TIRANA, Sept. 10 – Albania take on Scotland tonight in their second Nations League encounter following a hard-earned 1-0 home win against Israel last weekend in their opening competition game. The Red & Black will be facing Scotland on Monday,

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Coach Panucci seeks €100,000 in defamation damages against Albania’s ex-president

Coach Panucci seeks €100,000 in defamation damages against Albania’s ex-president

TIRANA, Sept. 6 – Albania’s Italian coach Christian Pannucci is seeking damages for defamation from Albania’s former president over insulting remarks in a social media status in the first such claim a national side coach is filing against senior current

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Panucci vows ‘real’ Albania for opening Nations League fixtures

Panucci vows ‘real’ Albania for opening Nations League fixtures

TIRANA, Sept. 3 – Coach Christian Panucci considers the three consecutive warm–up losses Albania suffered this year a closed chapter and has vowed a U-turn for the upcoming official encounters against Israel and Scotland for the inaugural Nations League. “For

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Albania hopes for U-turn at Nations League games against Israel, Scotland

Albania hopes for U-turn at Nations League games against Israel, Scotland

TIRANA, Aug. 20 – Albania will take on Israel on their debut UEFA Nations League campaign in a home encounter that is expected to be held under tight security measures following incidents in a late 2016 World Cup qualifier in

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Kukes remain sole Albania club at European competition

Kukes remain sole Albania club at European competition

TIRANA, Aug. 2 – Kukes is the sole remaining Albanian club to continue the European competition dream, but will now have to fight in the qualifying rounds of the less prestigious Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_138856" align="alignright" width="283"]israel 1 Photo: Israel Football Association[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 15 – Albania are almost out of the Nations League following an away loss to Israel and only a mathematical miracle at the closing game with Scotland could see them top their group and keep alive their hopes for a possible qualification to the Euro 2020 through UEFA’s inaugural competition.

Albania lost 2-0 away to Israel on Sunday night in their third Nations League qualifier and with one game remaining are now bottom of League C Group 1 with three points, but Scotland ranking second on better goal difference.

Israel now comfortably lead Group 1 with six points following two resurgent home victories against Scotland and Albania this month after a poor start last September when they lost their opening qualifier away to Albania.

The final qualifiers next November when Albania play home to Scotland and Israel travel to Scotland will be decisive for the group’s lead and mathematics could play a key role in case both Albania and Scotland win their home matches in a scenario that would see all three teams end up with six points.

Albania need to win by at least three goals in their final home qualifier against Scotland on Nov. 17 and hope Scotland beat Israel in their final group encounter on Nov. 20 to possibly qualify through superior goal difference in case all three teams finish on six points.

 

Shock loss to Israel

Albania’s chances of a possible qualification to the Euro 2020 suffered a severe blow as Israel avenged their last September’s 1-0 away defat to Albania with a 2-0 home win to top League C Group 1.

Although dominating in terms of ball possession and shots on target, Albania had nothing in common compared to a World Cup qualifier in mid-2017 when they claimed a surprise 3-0 victory away to Israel to avenge their first-leg qualifier under former coach Gianni De Biasi, the Italian who led Albania to a first ever major tournament such as Euro 2016.

The Israeli game once again unveiled Albania’s defensive problems after a long pass from the Israeli keeper set up their early opening goal in ongoing blunders that have been costing the national side dearly this year.

Albania have lost five out of their seven games this year in a situation that has increased pressure on Italian coach Christian Panucci ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The away qualifier to Israel also revealed attacking problems, with the national side having scored only once in their first three Nations League qualifiers as key attackers and midfielders of the impressive Euro 2016 campaign are missing and newly called up players have so far failed to convince.

Striker Armando Sadiku who scored twice from long-range shots in the away victory against Israel in mid-2017 and midfielder Odise Roshi, a key assist provider, have both been missing in the Nations League qualifiers due to injury.

Coach Christian Panucci whose tactics have been called into question by some former Albanian internationals and coaches admits the Nations League qualifying bid is now over for Albania.

"It is difficult winning 3-0 [against Scotland] and then for Scotland to beat Israel and then be level on points. In the meantime, we are out. We have not surrendered, but losing like this becomes even more difficult,” Panucci told journalists after the match.

A former Italian international with not much coaching experience, Panucci has lost seven out of 12 games since taking over in mid-2017 with the humiliating losses even against opponents of a similar level and his comments about justifying the defeats as “Albania is neither Brazil nor France,” irritating fans. Last June, Panucci was forced to abandon a post-match TV interview after irritated fans chanted ‘We want De Biasi back’ as Albania lost 4-1 against Ukraine, conceding their third consecutive loss following previous warm-up defeats against Norway and Kosovo.

However, Panucci has the apparent support of the football association president Armand Duka who says the coach should be given more time to make the required changes and the Italian is likely to continue leading Albania in the Euro 2020 qualifiers despite the Nations League results.

Albania will also play a home friendly against Wales on Nov. 20 ahead of the next December’s group stage draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with hopes of repeating their the historic first ever European Championship qualification claimed in 2016.

The inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament, largely set to replace friendlies, provides 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.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 11 – Albania were held to a goalless home draw in a warm-up against Jordan on Wednesday night ahead of their second-leg Nations League qualifier away to Israel in what is expected to be a decisive game to keep alive their qualification hopes.

Albania squandered a handful of scoring opportunities against Jordan, a team that ranks 110th at the FIFA men’s ranking compared to Albania’s 57th out of 210, in ongoing lackluster performances for this year, having lost four out of their six games in a situation that has placed Italian coach Christian Panucci under fire ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Panucci rested some key players, including Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj and two veteran midfielders, to give an opportunity to newly called-up players, including winger Myrto Uzuni who this season moved to Croatia's Lokomotiva Zagreb from the Albanian Superliga. The 23-year attacker was fielded in the second half to make his national side debut and went close to scoring in the 85th minute when he hit the post from close range.

The Albania coach and football association president described the game as positive and optimistic for Albania's upcoming qualifier away to Israel on Oct. 14.

Albania take to Israel after having beaten Israel 1-0 in their opening Nations League campaign and suffering a 2-0 defeat away to Scotland in two September qualifiers that showed Albania has a lot to improve, especially when it comes to defence whose blunders have been costing Albania dearly this year.

Israel host Scotland on Thursday, Oct. 11 before taking on Albania on Sunday Oct. 14 in a make-or-break double-header in Group C1 of the Nations League, an inaugural UEFA competition that largely replaces friendlies but also plays a major part for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

Albania takes to Israel amid a rather tense situation surrounding the national side and Italian coach Christian Panucci who has justified losses even against opponents of a similar level by saying “Albania is neither Brazil nor France,” triggering criticism by football pundits and fans.

A former Italian international with not much coaching experience, Panucci has lost six out of 11 games since taking over in mid-2017 with some former Albanian internationals and coaches questioning his tactics. However, Panucci has the apparent support of the football association president Armand Duka who says the coach should be given more time to make the required changes and the Italian is likely to continue leading Albania in the Euro 2020 qualifiers despite the Nations League results.

With some of the key players of the former De Biasi era who managed to qualify Albania for a first ever European championship in 2016 either having retired, missing because of injuries or not receiving a call-up because of having been sidelined by their clubs, Albania has lost much of its Euro 2016 campaign shine, placing coach Panucci under pressure due to new players having so far failed to prove decent replacements.

Nations League campaign

 

With two other second-leg games remaining, Albania now rank second in Group 1 of League C with three points, trailing Scotland who lead on goal difference and have a game in hand.

Albania conclude their group stage Nations League qualifiers on Nov. 17 with a home game against Scotland that could prove decisive for the group’s lead and further progress with group leaders of League C with Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria as the toughest sides that Albania could face.

Albania will also play a home friendly against Wales on Nov. 20 ahead of the next December’s group stage draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with hopes of repeating their the historic first ever European Championship qualification claimed in 2016.

The inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament, largely set to replace friendlies, will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament, with four sides from each league qualifying through play-off matches which take place in March 2020.

The top four-ranked League C teams that do not qualify for the Euro 2020 will enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

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

Chances for Albania and other contenders to make it EURO 2020 in case of failing to qualify directly as the top two group stage teams in the qualification campaign, are only through the Nations 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.

 

Israel - Albania 

Sunday, Oct. 14; 20:45 

Turner Stadium, Be'er Sheva
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 10 - Albania will play a warm-up game home to Jordan before heading to Israel for the second-leg Nations League qualifier.

The home friendly, scheduled for Oct. 10 is a key test before Albania takes on Israel four days later on Oct. 14 in a second-leg qualifier for the inaugural Nations League, a UEFA competition that largely replaces friendlies but also plays a major part for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

The last time Albania travelled to Israel was in mid-2017 in a World Cup qualifier which Albania won 3-0 to avenge their 3-0 first-leg defeat.

Albania heads to the Jordan friendly after having beaten Israel 1-0 in their opening Nations League campaign and suffering a 2-0 defeat away to Scotland in two September games that showed Albania has a lot to improve, especially when it comes to defence whose blunders have been costing Albania dearly this year after losing four out of their five games, in a situation that has put Italian coach Christian Panucci under fire and placed big question marks over Albania’s 2020 qualification bid.

Earlier this year, Albania lost all its three warm-up games against Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine in humiliating style.

The friendly against Jordan, a team that ranked 110th in the latest September FIFA men’s ranking compared to Albania's 57th out of 210, is supposed to be an easy test and morale booster for the Red & Black ahead of the Israeli qualifier in order to keep their Nations League qualification hopes alive and hopefully earn a Euro 2020 qualification spot by winning their League C.

With two other second-leg games remaining, Albania now rank second in Group 1 of League C with three points, trailing Scotland who lead on goal difference and have a game in hand.

Albania conclude their group stage Nations League qualifiers on Nov. 17 with a home game against Scotland that could prove decisive for the group's lead and further progress with group leaders of League C with Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria as the toughest sides that Albania could face.

Albania will also play a home friendly against Wales on Nov. 20 ahead of the next December's group stage draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with hopes of repeating their the historic first ever European Championship qualification claimed in 2016.
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                    [post_date] => 2018-09-20 11:47:01
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 20 – Albania’s reigning champions Skenderbeu have made a good start this season and are favorites to win again despite their future depending on a decision by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport after they were handed a tough 10-year ban from international competition by UEFA over match-fixing.

With many of their key players having left or retired following budget cuts after the UEFA punishment which Skenderbeu have appealed and are waiting for a final say, the ‘Snow Wolves’ top the Albanian Superliga in the first four weeks, having collected 10 points with a comfortable three point lead over rivals Kukes and Partizani, remaining unbeaten.

Skenderbeu beat title rivals Partizani in their opening campaign in Aug. 17 and recently beat fourth-placed Flamurtari with a comfortable 2-0 away victory.

Skenderbeu are now coached by their former goalkeeper Orges Shehi who claimed seven titles with the Red and Whites before retiring in mid-2018.

The Korça-based club, southeast Albania, play home to Tirana this weekend in a tough encounter featuring clubs that have dominated Albanian football in the past two decades. Newly promoted Tirana, the country's historically most successful club, have only claimed four points in their first four Superliga games in a situation that has placed their Brazilian coach Ze Maria under fire.

Tirana, who suffered a shock first-ever relegation last season, have claimed the Albanian Superliga a record 24 times and won the Albania Cup 16 times, but have been trophiless in the top flight of Albanian football in the past decade amid financial problems and mismanagement.

Skenderbeu claimed their eighth Superliga trophy last season, with seven of their titles earned during the past decade when they dominated Albanian football and became the first ever Albania club to make it to the Europa League group stage with two appearance in the 2015-16 and 2017-18 campaigns.

The 10-year ban and a €1 million fine handed by European football’s governing body, UEFA, in March 2018 made Skenderbeu ineligible to compete in this season international competition where Albanian clubs failed to make it to the group stage of either the Champions League or Europa League.

UEFA’s disciplinary body handed Skenderbeu the ban over 50 matched the club 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 based on its betting fraud detection system. The new ban follows an earlier 2016-2017 ban from the UEFA Champions League campaign, which the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld following Skenderbeu's appeal.

Skenderbeu deny claims and are hopeful of overturning the UEFA punishment, the severest ever handed to a European club, but prospects are Skenderbeu could be lucky to get away with a reduction of their 10-year ban.

Kukes who replaced banned Skenderbeu last summer at the Champions League qualifying campaign are the toughest rival for Skenderbeu this season, trailing them by three points. A club with not much history in Albanian football, Kukes have finished second three times in the past six years and claimed a first ever Superliga title in 2017.

Partizani have also made a good start this season, and also trail leaders Skenderbeu by three points, to keep alive their hopes for a long-awaited Superliga title after having been trophiless since the early 1990s.

The Albanian Superliga features 10 teams, two of which are relegated following a four-stage 36-game championship.
                    [post_title] => European competition banned Skenderbeu remain Albanian Superliga favorites 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 11 - Albania lost 2-0 to Scotland on Monday in an away Nations League qualifier that reopened old wounds for the national side and coach Christian Panucci whose losing streak as Albania coach since taking over in mid-2017 extended to six out of ten games.

Albania headed to Scotland full of optimism for a positive result following a hard-earned home win over Israel in the opening Nations League campaign after three embarrassing consecutive losses in warm-ups ahead of Nations League debut. However, the second qualifier against the Scots, a team that had lost five out of their past six friendlies, showed the national side has a lot to improve, especially when it comes to defence whose blunders are costing Albania dearly.

The national side mostly defended all the time, lacked clarity and squandered even the few scoring opportunities they created against the Scots, in similar style to the losses in the friendlies against Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine this year.

The loss against Scotland also gave a severe blow to the country’s hopes for a possible qualification to the Euro 2020 through the inaugural Nations League, a UEFA competition that largely replaces friendlies but also plays a major part for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

With two other second-leg games remaining, Albania now rank second in Group 1 of League C with three points, trailing Scotland who lead on goal difference and have a game in hand.

With some of the key players of the former De Biasi era who managed to qualify Albania for a first ever European championship in 2016 either having retired, missing because of injuries or having been sidelined by their clubs, coach Panucci has been trying to test new players, but the new entries have so far failed to prove decent replacements.

A former Italian international with little coaching experience, Panucci now finds himself under fire again and the upcoming Nations League qualifiers away to Israel in October and at home to Scotland next November could prove decisive for his stay with Albania ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers in March 2019.
                    [post_title] => Panucci under fire again as Scotland loss reopens old wounds for Albania
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 10 - Albania take on Scotland tonight in their second Nations League encounter following a hard-earned 1-0 home win against Israel last weekend in their opening competition game.

The Red & Black will be facing Scotland on Monday, Sept. 10 for the first time, seeking a second consecutive win to remain on top of Group 1 of League C and keep alive their hopes for a possible qualification through an inaugural competition that largely replaces friendlies but also plays a major part for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

The winning start against Israel marked a turning point for the Albanian national side and under-fire coach Christian Panucci following three consecutive warm-up losses this year ahead of the Nations League opening game against Israel on Sept. 7.

The narrow 1-0 victory against Israel showed Albania has a lot to improve, especially when it comes to defense as the national side were lucky to overcome some blunders that could have punished them had it not been for Italian Serie A goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha who made a handful of decisive saves.

Midfielder Taulant Xhaka, whose younger brother Arsenal playmaker Granit Xhaka plays for the Swiss national side, scored the winner from a shot just out of the box in the 55th minute.  Having Kosovo-Albanian roots, the Xhaka brothers are unique in Europe after becoming the first brothers to face each other for different sides in 2016 when Albania played Switzerland in their European Championship debut in 2016.

Panucci, who saw pressure on him ease following the winning start, is now hoping for a second consecutive victory against Scotland, a team which Albania has never faced before but with a lot of experience in World Cup and European tournaments, although having failed to reach a major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

Hopes for a positive result have increased as Scotland were thrashed 4-0 in their home friendly against World Cup semi-finalists Belgium last weekend as they suffered their fifth defeat in their past six friendlies.

A 44-year former Italian international and ex AC Milan and Real Madrid defender, Panucci is well-known in Scotland, where he is hoping to repeat his 2007 success with Italy, this time as a young coach.

Eleven years ago, Panucci’s injury-time away header qualified Italy for the Euro 2008, putting an end to the Scots’ dream of making it to the European championship.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the Scotland encounter, Panucci said he would play to win against an opponent who has been ‘wounded’ in the home defeat against Belgium.

"We will do our best to win. We are aware of our flaws. We face a 'wounded' opponent who lost in the friendly against Belgium. We play in a tough environment but we will definitely not play for a draw,” Panucci said.

Albania’s second leg Nations League games will be away to Israel on Oct. 14 and at home to Scotland on Nov. 17.

 

Nations League campaign

The inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament, largely set to replace friendlies, 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.

Based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the European football’s governing body has placed Albania in League C mostly featuring South-East Europe national sides with Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria as the toughest sides that Albania could face for the League C winner and a place in the Euro 2020 in case it tops its own Group 1.

The top four-ranked League C teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

Chances for Albania and other contenders to make it EURO 2020 in case of failing to qualify directly as the top two group stage teams in the qualification campaign, are only through the Nations 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.
                    [post_title] => Nations League: Albania face Scotland after opening hard-earned win over Israel 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 6 – Albania’s Italian coach Christian Pannucci is seeking damages for defamation from Albania’s former president over insulting remarks in a social media status in the first such claim a national side coach is filing against senior current or former officials in the country.

Panucci has addressed the Tirana District Court to sue former Albanian president Bujar Nishani over alleged defamation following derogatory remarks the ex-president made after Albania lost 3-0 against Kosovo last May in an all-Albanian derby serving as a warm-up for the upcoming Nations League campaign.

The former Italian AC Milan and Real Madrid defender who has been in charge of Albania for one year succeeding compatriot Gianni De Biasi, is reportedly seeking €100,000 in compensation after the Albanian former president called him a charlatan in a Facebook status. The Italian coach also wants Nishani, a former interior minister who served as the country’s president from 2012 to 2017, to apologize for the status.

"Kosovo - Albania (3:0) Bravo Kosovo! Panucci is a charlatan who is destroying what had been built," Nishani wrote in late May after Albania suffered a humiliating 3-0 loss against Kosovo, having previously lost against Norway at home.

While Panucci did not immediately react to the comments, the head of Albania’s football association, Armand Duka condemned declarations by “political analysts and former presidents who turn football coaches overnight."

The 45-year Italian coach has been under fire during this year after Albania suffered three consecutive humiliating losses against Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine in friendlies ahead of the Nations League campaign which Albania starts with a home fixture against Israel on Friday, Sept. 7.
                    [post_title] => Coach Panucci seeks €100,000 in defamation damages against Albania’s ex-president 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 3 – Coach Christian Panucci considers the three consecutive warm–up losses Albania suffered this year a closed chapter and has vowed a U-turn for the upcoming official encounters against Israel and Scotland for the inaugural Nations League.

“For us, this competition is extremely important. I don't want to look back and waste time with negative energy. We are now all focused on these official games. I no longer feel pressure since we have recovered some players. We have to give a signal. Everything is now over with the experiments,” Panucci has told a news conference as he unveiled the 25 players who have been called up for the opening Nations League games.

The pledge comes as Albania is training for the opening Nations League qualifier against Israel, a game that Albania plays at home on Friday, Sept. 7 at the Elbasan Arena stadium.

The inaugural UEFA Nations League is a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but also plays a major part for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

“The real European qualifiers story kicks off now. I have thoroughly analyzed it with the [football association] president. I don't want to hide the delicate moments I have been through. I am sorry about those who don't understand it, because we did well against Turkey, Spain and Italy,” says Panucci.

The 45-year-old Italian coach has been under constant fire following three humiliating losses in a row against Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine this year and has failed to convince during his first year at the helm of the national side and prove a decent replacement for his predecessor Gianni De Biasi, the Italian who led Albania to a first-ever major tournament qualification such as the Euro 2016.

A former AC Milan and Real Madrid defender, but with little coaching experience, Panucci has been experimenting with a series of new players since taking over in mid-2017, but many of the new players failed to convince and the Italian is now back relying on some key players previously considered ‘too old’ such as former captain Ansi Agolli, currently 35, and defender Mergim Mevraj who has yet to find a team after leaving relegated Hamburger.

Panucci managed to win with modest Liechtenstein, drew with Macedonia and narrowly lost against Italy in World Cup qualifiers.

His best game in Albania’s lead was last November when the national side surprised Turkey in a friendly with an away 3-2 victory as they played in 10 men for most of the time.

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.

The Italian has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target in his two-and-a-half year Albania contract, but critics doubt his adventure with Albania could end up as soon as next November when the initial Nations League campaign ends.

 

Key players make comeback

“This is where our road to the major European target kicks off. We have recovered six decisive players,” says Panucci.

Winger Eros Grezda is among the most important players making a comeback to the national side after recovering from an injury. The 23-year midfielder recently joined Scotland's elite club Rangers on a four-year deal from Croatia's Osijek.

Jahmir Hyka of the San Jose Earthquakes at the U.S. Major League Soccer has also received a call for the upcoming Israel and Scotland Nations League qualifiers. Midfielder Andi Lila who has been playing in Greece for the past seven years is also back on the 25-man list.

Albania take to the Israeli encounter without two of its key players, striker Armando Sadiku who is recovering following knee injury and right winger Odise Roshi who also suffered recent injury at the Russian championship. Both players had a key impact on the 3-0 away victory to Israel with Sadiku scoring a double and Roshi setting up a goal.

“We are a good team if there's everybody of us. We are not Brazil as someone might think. Mavraj has not been playing for a long time and Grezda too. Roshi and Sadiku are injured. Agolli and Lila have fluctuated with their field presence. If we are a complete team, we can do well like we did against Turkey and Spain,” says Panucci.

“I have called up experienced players, avoiding the big pressure on these matches. Players who have been playing little cannot handle both matches. Even our opponents face such issues with players,” adds Panucci.

 

Different games

“The games with Israel and Scotland are quite different. In Scotland, it will be a fiery match. Scotland puts a lot of pressure and every player needs fire,” says Panucci.

The home encounter at Elbasan Arena stadium is expected to be held under tight security measures following a planned terrorist attack successfully foiled ahead of the Nov. 2016 World Cup qualifier, later held peacefully.

Albania lost the home qualifier 3-0 but avenged the defeat with a surprise 3-0 away victory in the second leg encounter and finished third in Group G, one point ahead of fourth-placed Israel, in a tough qualifying campaign dominated by former world champions Spain and Italy.

Israel take on Albania after appointing Austrian Andreas Herzog in early August after almost a year without a coach and having played only a home friendly against Romania for this year which they lost 1-2. Israel’s best striker, former captain Eran Zahavi, has also returned to the national side after quitting it for about one year over an armband scandal.

Albania travel to Scotland on Sept. 10, three days after playing Israel, to conclude their first-leg Nations League fixtures in Group 1 of League C, the only group featuring three teams, with the remaining three league groups showcasing four teams.

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

Scotland initially face World Cup semi-finalists Belgium in a friendly test on 7 September before taking on Albania three days later.

Albania’s second leg Nations League games will be away to Israel on Oct. 14 and at home to Scotland on Nov. 17.

Albania will also play two home friendlies against Wales and Jordan next October and November during the ‘free’ international match days of the Nations League competition.
                    [post_title] => Panucci vows ‘real’ Albania for opening Nations League fixtures 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 20 – Albania will take on Israel on their debut UEFA Nations League campaign in a home encounter that is expected to be held under tight security measures following incidents in a late 2016 World Cup qualifier in a game which could prove decisive for a turning point in the national side following three consecutive warm-up losses this year.

Albania play Israel on Sept. 7 in their opening Nations League campaign, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but also plays a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

The home encounter at Elbasan Arena stadium is expected to be held under tight security measures following a planned terrorist attack successfully foiled ahead of the Nov. 2016 World Cup qualifier, later held peacefully.

A coordinated regional counter terrorism operation led to the arrests of four Albanians, disrupting a potential stadium attack that would have had severe consequences, in the first operation that unveiled Albania is not immune to terrorism.

Albania lost the home qualifier 3-0 but avenged the defeat with a surprise 3-0 away victory in the second leg encounter and finished third in Group G, one point ahead of fourth-placed Israel, in a tough qualifying campaign dominated by former world champions Spain and Italy.

Albania take to the Israeli encounter without two of its key players, striker Armando Sadiku who is recovering following knee injury and right winger Odise Roshi who also suffered recent injury at the Russian championship that will apparently leave him out of the first two qualifiers against Israel and Scotland. Both players had a key impact in the 3-0 away victory to Israel with Sadiku scoring a double and Roshi setting up a goal.

Several key players of the golden De Biasi era when Albania made their first ever European championship appearance are also facing problems with finding teams such as former Hamburger defender Mergim Mavraj, while others have been sidelined by their clubs some of which were relegated last season. The situation has triggered compulsory changes at the national side under coach Christian Panucci who has been in charge of Albania for one year now but failed to impress.

Albania takes on Israel following three disappointing warm-up losses against Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine, unveiling a series of problems in Albania’s line-up at a time when new players called up by Panucci have not met expectations.

Israel also take on Albania after appointing Austrian Andreas Herzog in early August after almost a year without a coach and having played only a home friendly against Romania for this year which they lost 1-2.

Albania travel to Scotland on Sept. 10, three days after playing Israel, to conclude their first-leg Nations League fixtures in Group 1 of League C, the only group featuring three teams, with the remaining three league groups showcasing four teams.

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

The second leg games will be away to Israel on Oct. 14 and at home to Scotland on Nov. 17.

Albania will also play two home friendlies against Wales and Jordan next October and November during the ‘free’ international match days of the Nations League competition.

The upcoming four Nations League games and two friendlies in the next few months could also prove decisive for coach Panucci, a 45-year-old former AC Milan and Real Madrid defender with not much coaching experience who has yet to convince at the helm of the national side and prove a decent replacement for De Biasi.

The 45-year-old Italian with not much coaching experience has lost five out of his eight games with Albania since taking over in mid-2017 including World Cup qualifiers against Spain and Italy and friendlies with Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine, putting him under fire.

Panucci managed to win with modest Liechtenstein and draw with Macedonia in World Cup qualifiers.

His best game in Albania’s lead was last November when the national side surprised Turkey with an away 3-2 victory as they played in 10 men for most of the time.
                    [post_title] => Albania hopes for U-turn at Nations League games against Israel, Scotland 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 2 - Kukes is the sole remaining Albanian club to continue the European competition dream, but will now have to fight in the qualifying rounds of the less prestigious Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions League campaign this week.

The Albanian club failed to impress in the second-leg qualifier against Azerbaijani champions Qarabag this week when they were thrashed 3-0 following a goalless home draw that temporarily left their qualifying hopes open. Kukes conceded three goals on penalty kicks following defensive blunders and played in ten men for most of the second half after defender Albi Alla was sent off.

Former Albania captain, midfielder Ansi Agolli, a key player who has been playing the Azerbaijani champions for the past eight seasons, was not fielded in the second game after playing a full 90 minutes in the first-leg encounter in Albania.

Qarabag is a much more experienced team that made history in the Azerbaijani football last season when they became the first local club to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage with Albanian midfielder Agolli playing a key part in their success.

Kukes will now apparently face Georgia's Torpedo Kutaisi in the third qualifying round of the Europa League after failing to progress in the Champions League campaign but will also have to make it through another play-off round to reach the Europa League group stage.

Kukes qualified to the second qualifying round of the Champions League after beating Malta's Valleta on a late away equalizer.

A club with not much history in Albanian football, last season's Superliga runners-up Kukes are replacing champions Skenderbeu who are battling at Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport a 10-year European competition ban and a €1 million fine handed by UEFA on match fixing.

Skenderbeu are the only Albanian club to have made it to the Europa League group stage, with two appearances in the past three years and have claimed six Superliga titles since 2011, but the club’s future is now seriously endangered as chances are the Court of Arbitration for Sport could only slightly reduce the harshest ban ever handed to a European club by European football’s governing body.

Meanwhile, Laçi was knocked out of the Europa League this week after losing 6-0 on aggregate to Molde, one of the toughest Norwegian sides with much experience at European competition.

Laçi made it to the second qualifying round of the Europa League following a second-leg home win against Cyprus’s Anorthosis.
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_138856" align="alignright" width="283"]israel 1 Photo: Israel Football Association[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 15 – Albania are almost out of the Nations League following an away loss to Israel and only a mathematical miracle at the closing game with Scotland could see them top their group and keep alive their hopes for a possible qualification to the Euro 2020 through UEFA’s inaugural competition.

Albania lost 2-0 away to Israel on Sunday night in their third Nations League qualifier and with one game remaining are now bottom of League C Group 1 with three points, but Scotland ranking second on better goal difference.

Israel now comfortably lead Group 1 with six points following two resurgent home victories against Scotland and Albania this month after a poor start last September when they lost their opening qualifier away to Albania.

The final qualifiers next November when Albania play home to Scotland and Israel travel to Scotland will be decisive for the group’s lead and mathematics could play a key role in case both Albania and Scotland win their home matches in a scenario that would see all three teams end up with six points.

Albania need to win by at least three goals in their final home qualifier against Scotland on Nov. 17 and hope Scotland beat Israel in their final group encounter on Nov. 20 to possibly qualify through superior goal difference in case all three teams finish on six points.

 

Shock loss to Israel

Albania’s chances of a possible qualification to the Euro 2020 suffered a severe blow as Israel avenged their last September’s 1-0 away defat to Albania with a 2-0 home win to top League C Group 1.

Although dominating in terms of ball possession and shots on target, Albania had nothing in common compared to a World Cup qualifier in mid-2017 when they claimed a surprise 3-0 victory away to Israel to avenge their first-leg qualifier under former coach Gianni De Biasi, the Italian who led Albania to a first ever major tournament such as Euro 2016.

The Israeli game once again unveiled Albania’s defensive problems after a long pass from the Israeli keeper set up their early opening goal in ongoing blunders that have been costing the national side dearly this year.

Albania have lost five out of their seven games this year in a situation that has increased pressure on Italian coach Christian Panucci ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The away qualifier to Israel also revealed attacking problems, with the national side having scored only once in their first three Nations League qualifiers as key attackers and midfielders of the impressive Euro 2016 campaign are missing and newly called up players have so far failed to convince.

Striker Armando Sadiku who scored twice from long-range shots in the away victory against Israel in mid-2017 and midfielder Odise Roshi, a key assist provider, have both been missing in the Nations League qualifiers due to injury.

Coach Christian Panucci whose tactics have been called into question by some former Albanian internationals and coaches admits the Nations League qualifying bid is now over for Albania.

"It is difficult winning 3-0 [against Scotland] and then for Scotland to beat Israel and then be level on points. In the meantime, we are out. We have not surrendered, but losing like this becomes even more difficult,” Panucci told journalists after the match.

A former Italian international with not much coaching experience, Panucci has lost seven out of 12 games since taking over in mid-2017 with the humiliating losses even against opponents of a similar level and his comments about justifying the defeats as “Albania is neither Brazil nor France,” irritating fans. Last June, Panucci was forced to abandon a post-match TV interview after irritated fans chanted ‘We want De Biasi back’ as Albania lost 4-1 against Ukraine, conceding their third consecutive loss following previous warm-up defeats against Norway and Kosovo.

However, Panucci has the apparent support of the football association president Armand Duka who says the coach should be given more time to make the required changes and the Italian is likely to continue leading Albania in the Euro 2020 qualifiers despite the Nations League results.

Albania will also play a home friendly against Wales on Nov. 20 ahead of the next December’s group stage draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with hopes of repeating their the historic first ever European Championship qualification claimed in 2016.

The inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament, largely set to replace friendlies, provides 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.
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