Morale-boosting win against Wales saves Panucci from early Albania departure

Morale-boosting win against Wales saves Panucci from early Albania departure

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Nov. 21 – Albania claimed a hard-earned victory in a home friendly with Wales on Tuesday night in a morale booster for the national side and under-pressure Italian coach Christian Panucci ahead of the upcoming Euro

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Friendly against Wales could be make or break for under-fire Albania coach

Friendly against Wales could be make or break for under-fire Albania coach

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Nov. 19 – The upcoming friendly against Wales could be Christian Panucci’s last as head of Albania’s national side following an embarrassing 4-0 home loss against Scotland that saw Albania relegated to League D of the

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Albania likely to sack Panucci in case of failure in next two games

Albania likely to sack Panucci in case of failure in next two games

TIRANA, Nov. 15 – The upcoming Nations League qualifier against Scotland and a friendly with Wales in the next few days could prove decisive for Christian Panucci and his fate as Albania’s coach, Albania’s football association president has warned. “We

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Albania desperately need Scotland win to keep Nations League hopes alive

Albania desperately need Scotland win to keep Nations League hopes alive

TIRANA, Nov. 12 – Albania desperately need to win their final Nations League qualifier against Scotland in order to calm down the situation at the national side following a series of embarrassing losses that have placed Italian coach Christian Panucci

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Partizani handed two-game stadium ban over racist behavior

Partizani handed two-game stadium ban over racist behavior

TIRANA, Nov. 1 – Albania’s football association has ordered Tirana-based Partizani to play two games behind closed doors over racist behavior after fans displayed an anti-Greek banner at an Albanian Superliga fixture earlier this week. The disciplinary committee of the

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Albanian winger claims Croatia’s ‘player of week’ award

Albanian winger claims Croatia’s ‘player of week’ award

TIRANA, Oct. 25 – Albanian winger Myrto Uzuni has been announced the best player of Croatia’s top league for the championship’s 11th week following his decisive role in the 2-0 home victory that his Lokomotiva Zagreb side claimed last weekend

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Tirana sack Brazilian Ze Maria over poor results following Superliga comeback

Tirana sack Brazilian Ze Maria over poor results following Superliga comeback

TIRANA, Oct. 17 – Tirana have sacked Brazilian coach Ze Maria and hired a former Albanian club player following a poor Superliga start after an embarrassing first-ever relegation from the top flight of Albania football last year. The 45-year old

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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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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Nov. 21 – Albania claimed a hard-earned victory in a home friendly with Wales on Tuesday night in a morale booster for the national side and under-pressure Italian coach Christian Panucci ahead of the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers following a shock performance at the debut Nations League where they finished bottom but were lucky to escape relegation to League D.

In an almost empty ‘Elbasan Arena’ stadium following a humiliating 4-0 defeat against Scotland few days ago leading to massive fan boycott, Albania performed much better to claim their second win out of nine matches for this year in one of the poorest records in decades.

With some key players making a comeback, Albania controlled much of the second half following a poor start to win against a much tougher national side that ranks among the top 20, some 42 places higher than Albania in the latest FIFA rankings.

Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale also played for about half an hour in the second half after Albania took the lead by converted a penalty kick, but was unable to help his team who squandered several scoring opportunities in the first half.

The victory also relieved pressure on under-fire Albania coach Panucci whose stay with the national side following the embarrassing defeat by Scotland had become more uncertain. The Italian whose Albania contract expires in November 2019 when the Euro qualifiers finish now seems will be given another chance to continue leading Albania although having missed a chance to keep qualification hopes alive through the debut Nations League in case of failing to make it through the traditional format.

"I am aware that the guys support me. I would have already left if I didn't have their support," Panucci said after the Wales match.

Pressure on the 45-year-old Italian had been mounting following a series of poor performances, having lost eight out of 14 games since taking over in mid-2017 and the football association was reportedly considering a premature cancellation of the contract with Panucci and looking for a replacement ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The mounting pressure comes as expectations for the national side have significantly increased following the historic 2016 qualification to a major competition such as the European championship in France under former coach Gianni De Biasi.

However, key players of the De Biasi era have been missing either due to having retiring, suffering injuries or no longer being a first choice due to few playing opportunities with their clubs and a new generation of players is replacing them in a transition period for the Albanian national side who during the past couple of years have been lacking the shine of the Euro 2016 campaign.

Albania collected only a home victory against Israel and were lucky not to be relegated to League D for the for the next 2020-21 UEFA Nations League as the lowest ranked third-placed team in League C thanks to the UEFA regulation not counting results against fourth-placed finishers in the three other four-team League C groups.

Chances for Albania to make it to the Euro 2020 are only through the traditional format of the upcoming qualifiers where they need to secure a top two finish in order to repeat their 2016 historic first ever qualification to a major tournament.

The upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers are set to begin in March 2019 after ten groups are drawn in December 2018.
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Nov. 19 – The upcoming friendly against Wales could be Christian Panucci’s last as head of Albania’s national side following an embarrassing 4-0 home loss against Scotland that saw Albania relegated to League D of the inaugural Nations League campaign and Albania’s 2018 performance under the Italian coach being one of the worst in decades.

Albania host Wales on Tuesday, Nov. 20 in a friendly that could prove decisive for the Italian coach’s chances to continue leading Albania through the Euro 2020 qualifiers, having already lost a chance to keep qualification hopes alive through the Nations League, a UEFA 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.

Albania desperately needed a win against Scotland, but the national side’s hopes received a severe blow as Albania remained in 10 men early in the game following a foolish headbutt by captain Mergim Mavraj, a former Hamburger defender who now plays in the Greek top league.

The embarrassing performance against a Scotland team facing key absences and debut Scot players easily scoring to Albania irritated the almost packed stadium with crowds chanting for Panucci’s resignation and leaving the stadium in the second half as Albania failed to have a single shot on target for the entire game.

However, Panucci insisted he will not step down even after the Scotland loss and it is now up to the Albanian football association to decide on his stay.

The 45-year Italian had already been under pressure following a series of poor performances which he justified with key absences in the national side and newly called up players needing time to adjust.

Albania’s football association president had indicated Panucci’s performance would be analyzed following Scotland and Wales games, but the embarrassing loss against the Scots seems to have already set the association in motion to settle the contract with Panucci and seek for a replacement ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

A renowned former Italian international who played for top European clubs, but had little coaching experience when taking over as Albania coach, the 45-year-old Panucci has lost eight out of 13 games since taking over in mid-2017 when he succeeded compatriot Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to a first-ever appearance at a major competition such as Euro 2016.

Panucci, who was hired on a two-and-a-half year €280,000 contract, had been set a Euro 2020 qualification target whose first opportunity he missed with Albania finishing bottom in League C Group 1.

Albania collected only a home victory against Israel and was relegated to League D for the for the next 2020-21 UEFA Nations League as the lowest ranked third-placed team in a League C where the three remaining groups featured four teams.

In case of not settling the deal amicably, Albania could face a €140,000 penalty for unilaterally cancelling the contract with Panucci who now faces a key test against a tough side such as Wales led by Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale.

The friendly against top-20 FIFA ranked Wales will apparently be a make or break for Panucci. Wales also failed to secure a top spot in their League B, Group 4 as they suffered a 2-1 home loss against Denmark last weekend to finish second and will now be fighting for a spot in the Euro 2020 through the traditional qualifiers.

Chances for Albania to make it to the Euro 2020 are only through the traditional format of the upcoming qualifiers where they need to secure a top two finish in order to repeat their 2016 historic first ever qualification to a major tournament. Third-placed teams in the traditional qualifiers are no longer provided a play-off opportunity, which is now granted through the Nations League with one finals place on offer for each of the four Leagues to decide the final four teams making it through the Euro 2020.

The upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers are set to begin in March 2019 after ten groups are drawn in December 2018.

 

Albania vs Wales

Tuesday, Nov. 20; 20:00

Venue: Elbasan Arena
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 15 – The upcoming Nations League qualifier against Scotland and a friendly with Wales in the next few days could prove decisive for Christian Panucci and his fate as Albania’s coach, Albania’s football association president has warned.

“We have to win against Scotland, if we make it, it won't be a failure. We have a lot of absences which is a great problem, but Panucci's performance will be analyzed after the next two games. Panucci needs everybody's support, the campaign will not be a failure if we win against Scotland,” Albania’s football president Armand Duka said this week in the first direct warning about Panucci who has been in charge of Albania since July 2017, succeeding compatriot Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to a first-ever appearance at a major competition such as Euro 2016.

The warning comes as Albania faces a key test in a final qualifier against Scotland on Saturday Nov. 17 that will prove decisive for the national side’s further progress at the inaugural Nations League, a UEFA 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.

It also comes at a time when pressure has been mounting on coach Panucci, a renowned former Italian international who played for top European clubs, but had little coaching experience when taking over as Albania coach. The 45-year-old Italian has lost seven out of 12 games since taking over in mid-2017 and Albania now almost find themselves out of the Nations League competition as they rank bottom of their League C Group 1 with only three points from their first three games. Albania need to beat Scotland by at least three goals in their final home qualifier 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 level on six points in what is a little likely scenario.

Albania will also play a tough home friendly against top-20 FIFA ranked Wales on Nov. 20 ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, scheduled to begin in March 2019 after ten groups are drawn in December 2018.

However, in case of poor performance in the upcoming two home games Albania is likely to sack to Panucci and look for a new coach ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Panucci, who was hired on a two-and-a-half year contract, has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target.

 

Also read: Albania desperately need Scotland win to keep Nations League hopes alive
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 12 – Albania desperately need to win their final Nations League qualifier against Scotland in order to calm down the situation at the national side following a series of embarrassing losses that have placed Italian coach Christian Panucci under fire ahead of the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The national side host Scotland on Saturday Nov. 17 in their final League C Group 1 qualifier for the inaugural Nations League, a UEFA 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 final qualifier finds Albania rank bottom in their group with only three points from their first three games, level on points with Scotland who rank second on better goal difference but have a game in hand and will be heading for a double-header against Albania and Israel in the next few days.

Israel, who comfortably lead Group 1 with six points following two resurgent home victories against Scotland and Albania last October after losing their opening qualifier away to Albania earlier in September, travel to Scotland on Nov. 20 in a qualifier that will decide the winner of what could end up as a complicated group.

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 in what is a little likely scenario.

However, coach Panucci says the national side will fight for victory against Scotland and hope Albania finish second and eventual group leaders Israel or Scotland directly qualify through the Euro 2020 group stage qualification campaign so that even if Albania fail to directly qualify for the upcoming European championship they could still stand a chance to continue fighting for a spot in their League C Nations League in 2020.

New rules by European football's governing body, UEFA, allow the top four-ranked League C teams that do not qualify for the Euro 2020 to enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

Finland, Norway and Serbia currently lead the three remaining four-team groups in League C, one of the four leagues where European teams were drawn based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

In case of a miracle top group finish Albania would also have to beat the three other League C group leaders to secure a spot for Euro 2020 championship that will be held in 12 various venues across Europe to mark the 60th anniversary of the tournament.

In case of finishing second and League C Group 1 leaders directly securing their European qualification from the group qualifiers, Albania will be given another chance to continue their qualification for a second ever appearance following their 2016 debut in France.

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.

 

Scotland qualifier

Albania and Scotland will both be heading to the Nov. 17 qualifier at the northern Albanian “Loro Boriçi” stadium in the city of Shkodra with some key absences, but Albania desperately looking to avenge their 2-0 away defeat last September in a bid to keep alive their Euro 2020 qualification hopes through an extra option in case of failing to qualify directly.

While some key Albania players will be missing either due to injury or booking, several others have been shining with European clubs in the past month, including Rangers midfielder Eros Grezda who scored a double at the Scottish Premiership this week and last-minute called up playmaker Ergys Kaçe who scored from a spectacular long-range shot that earned his Panathinaikos a precious point at the Greek top league earlier this week.

"We need to win and score as many goals, something which we have been failing. We need to climb to six points and then watch the qualifiers' draw as a second spot could be much worthy if the teams ranking above us qualify through their groups," says Panucci.

The Italian coach blames the poor performance on the Nations League campaign on what he calls childish blunders by a 'deaf' team he says is not responding to his appeals and having to deal with key injuries such as striker Armando Sadiku and winger Odise Roshi, two key players in the national side’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign success.

"When we don't score everything gets more complicated for me, the football association and fans," says Panucci.

Napolli fullback Elseid Hysaj will also be missing for the Scotland qualifier due to yellow card suspension.

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. Some former Albanian internationals and coaches have also questioned his tactics and frequent experiments with new players. However, the 45-year-old Italian 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 under former Italian coach Gianni De Biasi.

 

Group 1, League C                           Played                  Goal Difference               Points 

 

Israel                                                          3                                              2                                6

Scotland                                                   2                                              1                                 3

Albania                                                     3                                             -3                                3

 

 

Final Group 1 qualifiers

Albania - Scotland

Nov. 17; 20:45 at Loro Boriçi stadium, Shkoder

 

Scotland - Israel 

Nov. 20; 20:45 at Hampden Park, Glasgow

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 1 - Albania's football association has ordered Tirana-based Partizani to play two games behind closed doors over racist behavior after fans displayed an anti-Greek banner at an Albanian Superliga fixture earlier this week.

The disciplinary committee of the Albanian Football Association says Partizani fans displayed 'derogatory and racist banners and threw objects on the pitch' during the Oct. 29 fixture in Tirana against reigning champions, Korça-based Skenderbeu whom they lost 2-0 to also lose the championship lead.

Partizani fans displayed a racist banner reading "One Greek less, one bastard less" in a heated atmosphere triggered by the killing of a Greek-Albanian dual citizen in a southern Albanian ethnic Greek-inhabited village after opening fire on police officers.

The killing of the 35-year Greek minority citizen on Oct. 28 promoted several protests in neighboring Greece this week, mostly by supporters of Greek far-right political groups.

The Greek minority represents about 1 percent of Albania’s total resident population, with an estimated 24,000 residents, according to Albania’s latest 2011 population census, although minority representatives claim the figure is much higher.

Meanwhile, an estimated 500,000 Albanians live and work in neighboring Greece, making it the largest foreign community there following a migration exodus that began in the early 1990s soon after the collapse of Albania’s communist regime. An estimated 200,000 Albanians have obtained Greek citizenship during the past quarter of a century.

Greece has been Albania’s traditional top foreign investor, second main trading partner and a key source of remittances since the early 1990s.

Reacting to the decision by the disciplinary committee, Tirana-based Partizani said it distanced itself from such fan episode, describing the sanction as ‘collective punishment due to the action of a handful of irresponsible individuals that do not represent Partizani and whom the club immediately took measures to get out of the stadium.’

Partizani lost 2-0 at home to reigning champions Skenderbeu this week to lose their temporary lead and drop to second, trailing leaders Skenderbeu by one point in the first 10 games.

With another 26 games remaining, Tirana-based Partizani, one of Albania’s elite clubs who have been Superliga trophyless since the early 1990s, are one of the top favorites to make it this year due to main rivals Skenderbeu in financial straits and facing a tough European competition ban.

Skenderbeu, who have dominated Albanian football in the past decade, claiming seven titles and becoming 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, have been banned from European competition by European football's governing body, UEFA, for 10 years over match fixing and are now awaiting a final say by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport over their appeal.

Partizani take to this year's campaign in an Albanian-led team after a failed short-term experience with an Italian duo last year.

Partizani's 2017-18 campaign project with Lucciano Moggi, the former Juventus managing director who is suffering a lifetime ban from Italian football for his role in the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal, and former Juventus player Mark Iuliano who only had a short spell as Partizani coach, failed to produce any result with Partizani ranking fifth and failing to progress through the Europa League qualification campaign last season.

Meanwhile, Albania’s historically most successful club, Tirana, continue facing problems this season, following their Superliga comeback after an embarrassing first-ever relegation last season.

A couple of weeks ago, Tirana sacked Brazilian coach Ze Maria who led them to Superliga promotion but managed to get one point in the last two games under a new Albanian coach to see themselves rank seventh with nine points from 10 matches, just above the relegation zone.

The Albanian Superliga features 10 teams, two of which are relegated following a four-stage 36-game championship.
                    [post_title] => Partizani handed two-game stadium ban over racist behavior 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_138981" align="alignright" width="300"]uzuni Photo: Lokomotiva Zagreb[/caption]

TIRANA, Oct. 25 – Albanian winger Myrto Uzuni has been announced the best player of Croatia’s top league for the championship’s 11th week following his decisive role in the 2-0 home victory that his Lokomotiva Zagreb side claimed last weekend to keep pace with leaders.

The 23-year-old Albanian attacking midfielder set up Lokomotiva Zagreb first goal and scored the second goal to help his side extend their lead as the third-placed team and keep pace with leaders Dinamo Zagreb and Osijek. Uzuni’s goal against Hajduk Split was his second in five appearances with Lokomotiva Zagreb where he is emerging as a key player along with Kosovo striker Lirim Kastrati.

Uzuni moved to Croatia’s Lokomotiva Zagreb last September from the Albanian Superliga after scoring 11 goals with Laçi last season.

The 23-year attacker who made his Albania debut this month was unable to help Albania score as the national side was held to goalless draw by Jordan in a friendly and lost 2-0 away to Israel in a Nations League qualifier.

"I feel happy for having been selected the player of the week, but I wouldn't have been able to provide a good performance without my teammates' help. I have joined an excellent team with an excellent coach and quality players and I am really enjoying this new experience with Lokomotiva," says Uzuni.

The Albanian international says playing in Croatia, the surprise 2018 World Cup runners-up, is a huge leap for his career.

"Moving to Croatia is a big step forward for me. There is huge difference between the Croatian and Albanian football. Croatia plays faster and more dynamic football," Uzuni has told local Albanian media.

Six other players of ethnic Albanian roots play in the Croatian top league.
                    [post_title] => Albanian winger claims Croatia’s ‘player of week’ award
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 17 - Tirana have sacked Brazilian coach Ze Maria and hired a former Albanian club player following a poor Superliga start after an embarrassing first-ever relegation from the top flight of Albania football last year.

The 45-year old Brazilian leaves Tirana after leading Albania’s historically most successful club in its toughest times and managing to bring it back to the Superliga following a humiliating first-ever relegation in the 2017-18 season.

A former Brazilian international who spent most of his career as a right back with Italian clubs until the mid-2000s, Ze Maria led Tirana for 15 months. He faced the tough tasks of making it to the Albanian Superliga and bringing back irritated fans to the stadium, two duties which he successfully met until mid-October 2018 when newly promoted Tirana find themselves rank seventh, having collected only eight points from eight games and standing just above the relegation zone, although the championship is still in its initial stage and there are 28 more games to go.

“There are times when divorce is needed in case a marriage doesn't get on well and it's high time we divorced because of poor results,” Ze Maria, who previously trained teams in Italy and Kenya before joining Tirana in mid-2017, has said.

“We will see as time goes by whether the problem was mine or the president's. I hope I was the problem and really wish the team to grow. The team has a kind of impasse and it's not easy to get out of. Young players should understand what they represent and do the best when wearing the Tirana shirt," says the Brazilian.

Tirana, who have claimed the Albanian Superliga a record 24 times and won the Albania Cup 16 times, have been poorly performing in the past seven years amid financial problems in an elite Albanian club where the majority 66 percent stake is owned by Refik Halili, a traditional sponsor of Tirana and the remaining minority stake by the Municipality of Tirana.

Refik Halili, the president of Tirana football club said he was forced to cancel the contract with the Brazilian due to poor results at a time when Tirana's target is to make it to the top four or claim the Albanian Cup in order to make it to the upcoming European competition qualifying campaigns.

Ardian Mema, a former Tirana player who in the past year served as assistant coach with Tirana and Flamurtari, has been hired to replace Ze Maria, becoming the tenth coach to lead Tirana since 2012.

"The players are not in a good psychological condition and we have to work on this altogether to overcome this situation. We have to set up a team spirit in order to go back to positive results,” says the new 48-year-old coach.

With eight games played, Tirana-based Partizani, one of Albania's elite clubs who have been trophiless since the early 1990s, lead the Albanian Superliga and are one of the top favorites to make it this year due to main rivals, second-placed Skenderbeu in financial straits.

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.

Skenderbeu have dominated Albanian football in the past decade, claiming seven titles and becoming 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 Albanian Superliga features 10 teams, two of which are relegated following a four-stage 36-game championship.
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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_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Nov. 21 – Albania claimed a hard-earned victory in a home friendly with Wales on Tuesday night in a morale booster for the national side and under-pressure Italian coach Christian Panucci ahead of the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers following a shock performance at the debut Nations League where they finished bottom but were lucky to escape relegation to League D.

In an almost empty ‘Elbasan Arena’ stadium following a humiliating 4-0 defeat against Scotland few days ago leading to massive fan boycott, Albania performed much better to claim their second win out of nine matches for this year in one of the poorest records in decades.

With some key players making a comeback, Albania controlled much of the second half following a poor start to win against a much tougher national side that ranks among the top 20, some 42 places higher than Albania in the latest FIFA rankings.

Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale also played for about half an hour in the second half after Albania took the lead by converted a penalty kick, but was unable to help his team who squandered several scoring opportunities in the first half.

The victory also relieved pressure on under-fire Albania coach Panucci whose stay with the national side following the embarrassing defeat by Scotland had become more uncertain. The Italian whose Albania contract expires in November 2019 when the Euro qualifiers finish now seems will be given another chance to continue leading Albania although having missed a chance to keep qualification hopes alive through the debut Nations League in case of failing to make it through the traditional format.

"I am aware that the guys support me. I would have already left if I didn't have their support," Panucci said after the Wales match.

Pressure on the 45-year-old Italian had been mounting following a series of poor performances, having lost eight out of 14 games since taking over in mid-2017 and the football association was reportedly considering a premature cancellation of the contract with Panucci and looking for a replacement ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The mounting pressure comes as expectations for the national side have significantly increased following the historic 2016 qualification to a major competition such as the European championship in France under former coach Gianni De Biasi.

However, key players of the De Biasi era have been missing either due to having retiring, suffering injuries or no longer being a first choice due to few playing opportunities with their clubs and a new generation of players is replacing them in a transition period for the Albanian national side who during the past couple of years have been lacking the shine of the Euro 2016 campaign.

Albania collected only a home victory against Israel and were lucky not to be relegated to League D for the for the next 2020-21 UEFA Nations League as the lowest ranked third-placed team in League C thanks to the UEFA regulation not counting results against fourth-placed finishers in the three other four-team League C groups.

Chances for Albania to make it to the Euro 2020 are only through the traditional format of the upcoming qualifiers where they need to secure a top two finish in order to repeat their 2016 historic first ever qualification to a major tournament.

The upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers are set to begin in March 2019 after ten groups are drawn in December 2018.
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