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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Two Albania clubs progress to second qualifying rounds

Two Albania clubs progress to second qualifying rounds

TIRANA, July 20 – Kukes and Laçi are the only two Albania clubs that managed to progress to the second qualifying rounds of European competition this week following lackluster performances and rather lucky qualifications on away goals that do not

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Albania’s Kukes claim hard-earned win over Valleta to keep qualifying hopes alive

Albania’s Kukes claim hard-earned win over Valleta to keep qualifying hopes alive

TIRANA, July 18 – Albania’s Kukes scored a late away equalizer against Malta’s Valleta to make it to the Champions League second qualifying round following a disappointing goalless draw in last week’s first-leg home encounter. Kukes were lucky to qualify

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Albanian clubs disappoint at first-leg European competition qualifying games

Albanian clubs disappoint at first-leg European competition qualifying games

TIRANA, July 13 – Albanian clubs failed to impress in their first-leg European competition qualification campaigns this week and chances of any Superliga team progressing to the next round have received a severe blow at a time when Skenderbeu, Albania’s

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Albania claims first Mediterranean Games medal at Tarragona 2018

Albania claims first Mediterranean Games medal at Tarragona 2018

TIRANA, June 29 – Luiza Gega has claimed Albania’s first medal at the 2018 Mediterranean Games that are taking place in Spain’s Tarragona, winning gold for Albania at the women’s 3000m steeplechase. The 29-year-old Albanian middle distance runner completed the

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Albanian clubs face tough European competition opponents

Albanian clubs face tough European competition opponents

TIRANA, June 21 – Albanian teams have been drawn against rather tough opponents for their Champions League and Europa League qualifying campaigns. Kukes are the luckiest team on paper having been drawn against Valleta, a team that has dominated Malta’s

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Tarragona 2018: Albania eyes athletics medals as it bans lifters over doping

Tarragona 2018: Albania eyes athletics medals as it bans lifters over doping

TIRANA, June 19 – Sixty athletes will represent Albania at the 2018 Mediterranean Games that kick off in Spain’s Tarragona this weekend, but weightlifting, the elite discipline that has brought the country most medals since Albania’s 1987 Mediterranean Games debut,

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Irritated Albania fans want De Biasi back as Albania suffer third loss in a row

Irritated Albania fans want De Biasi back as Albania suffer third loss in a row

TIRANA, June 6 – Albania’s coach Christian Panucci was forced to abandon a post-match TV interview as Albania suffered their third humiliating defeat in a row for this year, this time in a friendly against Ukraine and angry fans called

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Pressure mounts on coach Panucci as Albania suffer new humiliating defeat

Pressure mounts on coach Panucci as Albania suffer new humiliating defeat

TIRANA, May 30 – Albania’s national side suffered a humiliating defeat against Kosovo this week in similar style to last March’s Norway loss, triggering fury among fans and sports experts who are now questioning Christian Panucci’s ability to lead Albania

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Albania play Kosovo in derby amid growing rivalry over new talents

Albania play Kosovo in derby amid growing rivalry over new talents

TIRANA, May 29 – Albania will take on Kosovo on Tuesday night in a friendly which is an all-Albanian derby but amid growing rivalry over which national side players of Kosovo roots should pick. Half of Albania’s national side’s 24-man

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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] => TIRANA, July 20 – Kukes and Laçi are the only two Albania clubs that managed to progress to the second qualifying rounds of European competition this week following lackluster performances and rather lucky qualifications on away goals that do not promise much for tougher upcoming opponents.

Kukes scored a late away equalizer against Malta's Valleta to make it to the Champions League second qualifying round following a disappointing goalless draw in last week’s first-leg home encounter. The Albanian Superliga runners-up will now face a much tougher test against the Azerbaijani champions Qarabag, a 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.

The fixture will also be a small Albanian derby as Qarabag features former Albania captain, midfielder Ansi Agolli, a key player who has been playing the Azerbaijani champions for the past eight seasons. A regular starter with Qarabag, the 35-year-old player has been left out of the Albania squad by coach Christian Panucci who has been under fire following three consecutive losses Albania incurred this year in warm-ups ahead of the upcoming Nations League and the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

Kukes will play their first-leg fixture at home on Wednesday, July 25 and travel to Azerbaijan a week later. However, new UEFA rules give the Albanian club a second chance to continue competing at European level by entering the third qualifying round of the less prestigious UEFA Europa League even in case of failing with Qarabag.

Kukes are replacing champions Skenderbeu who are battling a 10-year European competition ban and a €1 million fine handed by UEFA on match fixing at Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. 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.

At the Europa League campaign, Laçi scored a late winner against Cyprus’s Anorthosis on Thursday to claim a 1-0 home victory and become the second Albanian club to qualify for the next round of European competition. Laçi, who managed to qualify only thanks to their away first leg goal in the 2-1 defeat will now face in the second qualifying round Molde, one of the toughest Norwegian sides with much experience at European competition.

In other games, both Partizani and Luftetari failed to impress Slovenia's Maribor and Latvia's Ventspils,  and were easily knocked out of the Europa League.

Two other Albanian-owned clubs in Kosovo and Macedonia have also progressed to the second qualifying rounds.

Albania-owned Shkendija based in the majority ethnic Albanian-inhabited town of Tetovo, Macedonia, will face Moldova's Sheriff at the second qualifying round of the Champions League after beating Wales's The New Saints in the first qualifying round.

Meanwhile, Kosovo's Drita will face Luxembourg's Dudelange at the second qualifying round of the Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions League by Sweden's Malmo.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137950" align="alignright" width="300"]kukes Georgian midfielder Irakli Dzaria was the Kukes hero as he netted a precious equalizer. Photos: F.K. Kukesi[/caption]

TIRANA, July 18 - Albania's Kukes scored a late away equalizer against Malta's Valleta to make it to the Champions League second qualifying round following a disappointing goalless draw in last week’s first-leg home encounter.

Kukes were lucky to qualify to the next round as Valleta dominated both games in what was initially perceived as an easy draw for Albanian Superliga runners-up replacing champions Skenderbeu who are battling a 10-year European competition ban handed by UEFA on match fixing at Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Georgian midfielder Irakli Dzaria was the Kukes hero as he netted a precious equalizer that earned Kukes a second round Champions League qualification where they face much tougher competition, but also stand a chance to continue competing at European level by entering the third qualifying round of the less prestigious UEFA Europa League in case they fail to further progress.

The first-leg goalless draw cost Austrian coach Peter Pacult his job as Kukes coach. The experienced Austrian coach was replaced last weekend with Albanian coach Armando Cungu, who was in charge of Kukes in the 2012-13 when they finished second to earn their debut European competition appearance.

A north-eastern Albania based club with not much history in the top flight of Albanian football, Kukes made history last year as they claimed their first-ever Superliga title.

Kukes made their best European level performance in the 2013-14 Europa League campaign when they were eliminated in the play-off round by Turkey's Trabzonspor after qualifying in the first three rounds.

Their last season's top scorer 24-year-old Sindrit Guri will be playing for Belgian top league side Oostende next season and Kukes have yet to find a decent replacement for him.

Three other Albanian clubs will be fighting their Europa League qualification next Thursday, but chances to make it to the next qualifying round received a severe blow in first-leg games.

Chances are that only Laçi could progress to the next second qualifying round as the only Albanian team that managed to score in the first-leg games. Cyprus’s Anorthosis came from behind to claim a 2-1 home victory, but the Albania club could take advantage of their away goal in the July 19 second-leg home encounter and progress even with a narrow 1-0 home win.

Partizani, a club with much history in Albanian football but who have failed to win the Superliga since the early 1990s, disappointed in their home game with Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful club, suffering a 1-0 home defeat.

Albania’s Europa League debutants Luftetari are almost out following an embarrassing 5-0 away loss against Latvia’s Ventspils.

The most successful Albanian club of the past decade, Skenderbeu have been temporarily suspended from European competition until a final say by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration over their 10-year ban and €1 million fine they received by the European football’s governing body over European and domestic league campaigns in the past few years based on UEFA’s betting fraud detection system.

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.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 13 – Albanian clubs failed to impress in their first-leg European competition qualification campaigns this week and chances of any Superliga team progressing to the next round have received a severe blow at a time when Skenderbeu, Albania’s most successful Europa League contenders, are facing a UEFA ban over match fixing.

Kukes disappointed with a home goalless draw against Malta’s Valleta in what was perceived as an easy first qualifying round for their Champions League campaign and the future of their Austrian coach Peter Pacult has been called into question unless Kukes manage to qualify in their second-leg July 17 away encounter.

A club with not much history in Albanian football, Kukes finished second in last season’s Superliga but replaced Superliga champions Skenderbeu in this year’s Champions League qualifying campaign.

The most successful Albanian club of the past decade, Skenderbeu have been temporarily suspended from European competition until a final say by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration over their 10-year ban and €1 million fine they received by the European football’s governing body over European and domestic league campaigns in the past few years based on UEFA’s betting fraud detection system.

As chances of overturning the UEFA rule at the Court of Arbitration look minimal, Skenderbeu’s future looks quite uncertain and some of the elite players are already leaving the club. 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.

In the Europa League campaign, all three Albanian clubs suffered losses and chances are that only Laçi could progress to the next second qualifying round as the only Albanian team that managed to score in the first-leg games. Cyprus’s Anorthosis came from behind to claim a 2-1 home victory, but the Albania club could take advantage of their away goal in the July 19 second-leg home encounter and progress even with a narrow 1-0 home win.

Partizani, a club with much history in Albanian football but who have failed to win the Superliga since the early 1990s, disappointed in their home game with Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful club, suffering a 1-0 home defeat.

Albania's Europa League debutants Luftetari are almost out following an embarrassing 5-0 away loss against Latvia’s Ventspils.

Both Kukes and Luftetari took to the European competition games without their last season's stars Sindrit Guri and Kristal Abazaj, both of whom moved to Belgian top league clubs Oostende and Anderlecht as two emerging talents that could serve Albania’s national side a lot for the upcoming Nations League and Euro 2020 qualification campaigns.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 29 - Luiza Gega has claimed Albania's first medal at the 2018 Mediterranean Games that are taking place in Spain’s Tarragona, winning gold for Albania at the women's 3000m steeplechase.

The 29-year-old Albanian middle distance runner completed the women's race in 9:27.73, finishing seven seconds faster than her Tunisian silver medalist rival to claim her second personal Mediterranean Games medal.  Albania’s most successful athlete of the past five years had earlier claimed silver at the 2013 Mediterranean Games in Turkey’s Mersin competing in her women’s 1,500m specialty.

She will also be targeting another medal on Saturday, June 30 at the women's 1,500m final.

The International Association of Athletics Federations, described Gega's win as unrivalled.

"Albania’s Luiza Gega was a commanding winner in the women’s 3000m steeplechase. The 29-year-old took charge of the race from the early stages with a 3:03.32 opening kilometre, with none of her rivals daring to join her at such a frantic pace. Not even Tunisia’s 2012 Olympic champion Habiba Ghribi, who travelled 30 metres behind the Albanian by then," wrote the athletics governing body.

Gega, who was the sole Albanian athlete to directly qualify for the 2016 Olympics, was unlucky in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase in Brazil’s Rio due to a last minute injury.

She had previously finished second in the women’s 3000m steeplechase at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam ahead of the Rio Olympics and claimed gold in the Women’s 1500 meters in the Baku 2015 European Games.

Meanwhile, Albania's flag bearer Izmir Smajlaj finished fourth in the men's long jump at the second qualification round of Tarragona 2018 to easily qualify for the June 30 final where he will have to do much better for a medal.

A 25-year-old jumper who in March 2017 was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships, Smajlaj is Albania’s last hope for another medal at a time when Albanian authorities have handed the country’s elite weightlifters a 2-year ban from international competition over a doping scandal.

The country’s National Olympic Committee said it made the drastic decision last May, fearing any new doping case could lead to the suspension of Albania’s weightlifting by the world weightlifting body and in a bid to teach a lesson to weightlifters over doping consequences.

Athletics is emerging as a new success in Albania where weightlifting and wrestling have been the traditional best performing Olympic disciplines, but poor financial support to athletes and improper training infrastructure remain a huge barrier.

Albania is participating with 60 athletes competing in 13 individual sports disciplines and in volleyball at the Tarragona 2018 including archery where three athletes made the country’s debut.

Albania have claimed 43 medals in their eight Mediterranean Games appearances since the late 1980s, most of which in weightlifting.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 21 – Albanian teams have been drawn against rather tough opponents for their Champions League and Europa League qualifying campaigns.

Kukes are the luckiest team on paper having been drawn against Valleta, a team that has dominated Malta’s top league in the past few years but likewise Kukes have never made it to the final stage of a European club competition.

Kukes finished second at the Albanian Superliga but were made eligible to play at the Champions League campaign thanks to a ban handed to Albanian champions Skenderbeu by European football’s governing body. Having dominated Albanian football during the past decade and being the only Albanian club to have made it twice to the Europa League group stage, Skenderbeu have been handed a 10-year ban and a €1 million fine by UEFA over match-fixing in the severest punishment ever handed to a European club.

Skenderbeu’s only hope is now Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport where they will be appealing UEFA’s decision, hopefully reducing the ban.

A north-eastern Albania based club with not much history in the top flight of Albanian football, Kukes made history last year as they claimed their first-ever Superliga title in a season which saw the relegation of Tirana, the 24-times record Superliga champions. The club is led by experienced Austrian coach Peter Pacult, a former striker who has trained teams in Austria and Germany, Slovenia and Croatia top leagues. He has been in charge of Kukes since last January and confirmed for another season.

Kukes have recently hired Bosnian striker Haris Harba to replace their top scorer, 24-year-old Sindrit Guri who will be playing for Belgian top league side Oostende next season.

Their first qualifying round game will be at home on July 10 before travelling to Malta seven days later.

Kukes need to qualify over three rounds and also win a play-off round in order to make it to the Champions League group stage, but can also make it to the Europa League in case of losing the third qualifying round fixture and winning a Europa League play-off.

At the UEFA Europa League qualification campaign, Albania's Luftetari, a surprise team that finished third in the last season of Albania's Superliga, will face Latvia's Ventspils in the first qualifying round. A team that is making their debut at European competition, Luftetari are expected to face a tough test against Ventspils, a club that in 2009 became Latvia's first to make it to the group stage of the Europa League. Luftetari take the campaign without their key players of the last season. Their 24-year-old striker Kristal Abazaj will be playing for Belgian giants Anderlecht next season following a three-year contract for a reported €750,000 fee in the most expensive transfer ever for an Albanian player.

Luftetari play their first-leg game away to Latvia on July 12.

Albania's Laçi who finished fourth last season and also made it to the Albanian Cup final will face Cyprus's Anorthosis in the first leg of the Europa League.

Meanwhile, Partizani, a club with much history in Albanian football but who have failed to win the Superliga since the early 1990s, face Maribor, Slovenia's most successful club who have earlier appeared both at the Champions League and Europa League group stages.

After rivalling for the title in the previous two seasons, Partizani finished fifth last season and made it to the Europa League only thanks to Skenderbeu's UEFA ban.

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.

The 2017-2018 Albanian Superliga saw the relegation of Vllaznia, one of Albania's elite club and the promotion of Tirana, Albania's historically most successful club following an embarrassing one-year relegation. The championship also produced two key attacking players such as Kristal Abazaj and Sindrit Guri who also received calls for the national side in friendless ahead of the next September's Nations League kick off.

Albania's national side have made a poor start this year, losing all three warm-up games against Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine, and look far from their impressive 2016 Euro qualification campaign when they surprised with the country's first ever appearance at a major competition.

 

 

First-leg qualifying games for Albanian clubs 

 

Kukës (ALB) v Valletta (MLT) - July 10

 Partizani (ALB) v Maribor (SVN)  - July 12

Ventspils (LVA) v Luftëtari (ALB) - July 12

Anorthosis Famagusta (CYP) v Laçi (ALB)  - July 12
                    [post_title] => Albanian clubs face tough European competition opponents  
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                    [post_date] => 2018-06-19 11:45:26
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-06-19 09:45:26
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 19 – Sixty athletes will represent Albania at the 2018 Mediterranean Games that kick off in Spain’s Tarragona this weekend, but weightlifting, the elite discipline that has brought the country most medals since Albania’s 1987 Mediterranean Games debut, will for the first time be missing from Albania’s competitive disciplines.

Albania’s choice to pick no weightlifters for the 2018 multisport games comes after the local National Olympic Committee handed the country’s lifters a two-year ban from international weightlifting competitions in punishment for repeated cases of athletes testing positive for doping and being stripped of their medals.

Albanian weightlifters have tested positive for doping eleven times since 2011, marring the reputation of Albania’s traditionally best performing Olympic discipline at international competitions.

The country's National Olympic Committee said it made the drastic decision, fearing any new doping case could lead to the suspension of Albania’s weightlifting by the world weightlifting body and in a bid to teach a lesson to weightlifters over doping consequences.

Briken Calja, who last March claimed three gold medals at the European Senior Weightlifting Championships in Romania, as well as former medal winners Daniel Godelli and Erkand Qerimaj, all three having previously tested positive for doping in international competitions, strongly opposed the decision.

Albania have claimed 43 medals in their eight Mediterranean Games participations since the late 1980s, most of which in weightlifting.

Speaking at a flag ceremony this week ahead of Albania’s departure to Spain, Albania’s President Ilir Meta said he regretted weightlifting was not representing Albania in this 18th edition of the Mediterranean Games, but was optimistic about Albanian athletes bringing home medals in this Pan-national Skanderbeg Year that is being marked in honor of the 550th death anniversary of Albania’s national hero, Skanderbeg.

"I am not very happy that weightlifting is not participating in these Games, otherwise I would have been quite confident of the medals claimed, but I am still confident that we have many athletes who can bring home medals especially this year which we are marking as the year of our national hero Skanderbeg," said Meta as he handed over Albania's national flag to Izmir Smajlaj, Albania's European champion long jumper.

A 25-year-old jumper who in March 2017 was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships, Smajlaj will be Albania's flag bearer and is a top favorite to bring home medals along with Luiza Gega, a middle distance runner who has previously claimed gold and silver for Albania.

"I feel honored to carry the Albanian flag. Albanian athletes will do their best to make a decent representation and claim medals to hoist this great flag in every discipline," said Smajlaj.

Athletics is emerging as a new success in Albania where weightlifting and wrestling have been the traditional best performing Olympic disciplines, but poor financial support to athletes and improper training infrastructure remain a huge barrier.

Albania is participating with 36 athletes competing in 13 individual sports disciplines at the Tarragona 2018 including archery where three athletes will make the country's debut.

In addition to athletics and archery, Albanian athletes will also compete in wrestling, another discipline which has earlier brought medals to Albania, as well as swimming, boxing, cycling, rowing and shooting among others.

Another 24 athletes will represent the country in volleyball. Albanian women recently finished third at the 2018 European Volleyball Silver League, in a major success for the country’s volleyball.

The 18th Mediterranean Games will be held in Spain’s Tarragona from June 22 to July 1 in ten days of competition bringing 4,000 athletes from 26 different countries.
                    [post_title] => Tarragona 2018: Albania eyes athletics medals as it bans lifters over doping 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-06-06 18:04:39
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 6 – Albania’s coach Christian Panucci was forced to abandon a post-match TV interview as Albania suffered their third humiliating defeat in a row for this year, this time in a friendly against Ukraine and angry fans called on him to step down and chanted the name of Gianni De Biasi, Panucci’s predecessor who led Albania to a historic European Championship debut in 2016.

In a friendly played at a small stadium in France’s Evian, Albania lost 4-1 with Ukraine on June 3 in similar style to the earlier 3-0 defeat against Kosovo although Panucci had promised a turning point, further irritating fans and football experts who predict Panucci’s future with the national side could end up as soon as the end of this year if Albania also disappoint at the Nations League campaign against Scotland and Israel.

Speaking at a later interview, the former Real Madrid and AC Milan defender who has been in charge of Albania since mid-2018 , shrugged off some responsibility saying the ‘fire in the national side has waned and players ran out of fuel.”

The two friendlies against Kosovo and Ukraine were supposed to serve as key tests for Panucci ahead of next September’s start of the National League campaign with Panucci having called up several new players and left out key players of the De Biasi era either because of being sidelined by their European clubs for most of the season or being considered ‘too old’ for the national side now.

Earlier this year, Albania also lost 1-0 in a home friendly with Norway, showing the first signals of their free fall as the national side failed to have a single shot on target.

In the first three friendlies of this year, Albania conceded 8 goals and scored only 1, in one of its poorest performances on record with terrible defensive blunders and a midfield that is not working.

Armand Duka, the president of Albania's football association, has defended his choice saying "Panucci should be given more time and that he is confident Albania will change next September.”

Veteran De Biasi, who led Albania for five and a half years before stepping down in mid-2017, has also backed Panucci saying that “tests are a positive thing to make changes before official competitions, but the national side has to make better use of experience.”

However, three consecutive losses and failed tests for this year are expected to have a negative psychological effect on the national side next September during the Nations League campaign and call into question Panucci’s ability to lead and motivate the national side, which turned into Albania’s pride following their historic Euro 2016 campaign.

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.

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.

In his two-and-a-half year contract, Panucci has been set a Euro 2020 qualification bid that would repeat Albania 2016 success when the national side led by Gianni De Biasi made history with their debut appearance at a major international competition and were unlucky to make it to the knockout stage following a group stage victory against Romania, but losses to hosts France and Switzerland.

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

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

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

The inaugural UEFA tournament largely replaces friendlies but will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

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] => Irritated Albania fans want De Biasi back as Albania suffer third loss in a row 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 30 – Albania’s national side suffered a humiliating defeat against Kosovo this week in similar style to last March’s Norway loss, triggering fury among fans and sports experts who are now questioning Christian Panucci’s ability to lead Albania following the historic Gianni De Biasi era when Albania made their debut European championship appearance.

In an all-Albanian derby played in Switzerland, Albania was thrashed 3-0 by Kosovo, a national side that concluded their debut World Cup qualifiers with only one point from an away draw with Finland following their 2016 FIFA admission.

With several key players left out, the friendly against Kosovo was supposed to be a test for new players, but Albania’s first real shot on target came only nine minutes before regular time at a time when Kosovo was comfortably leading the game 3-0.

The last time Albania was beaten 3-0 was in October 2017 in an away World Cup qualifier with former world champions Spain.

In last March’s home friendly against Norway, Albania failed to have a single shot on target putting coach Panucci, who has been in charge of Albania since mid-2017, under fire over his tactics.

While Panucci assumed responsibility for the defeat, he also blamed players for not showing enough motivation and pledged fans will no longer see ‘such ugly games.’

Astrit Hafizi, a former Albania coach says Punucci has destroyed the defensive playing style he found in Albania and has no clear ideas about the attacking football he intends to apply.

Football commentator Dritan Shakohoxha described Albania's game as a catastrophe, saying "I don't know whether Panucci is building a new team or destroying what De Biasi had built."

Panucci’s new chance to show things in the national side are not as bad as they look is the upcoming June 3  friendly against Ukraine, a much tougher national side whom Albania have only managed to get a draw and lost four times in World Cup qualifiers and friendlies in the past two decades.

The two friendlies are considered key ahead of next September’s start of the Nations League campaign against Israel and Scotland and the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers

A former Italian Real Madrid and AC Milan defender with not much coaching experience, Panucci has been in charge of Albania since mid-2017 succeeding compatriot Gianni De Biasi. The 45-year-old has lost four out of his seven games with Albania including World Cup qualifiers against Spain and Italy and friendlies with Norway and Kosovo.

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.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 29 - Albania will take on Kosovo on Tuesday night in a friendly which is an all-Albanian derby but amid growing rivalry over which national side players of Kosovo roots should pick.

Half of Albania’s national side’s 24-man are of Kosovo-Albanian roots, and there are also players who were born in Switzerland, making them eligible to play for three national sides with Switzerland often coming as the first choice, followed by Albania and Kosovo.

Rivalry between Albania and Kosovo has been tough after Kosovo’s 2016 admission as full UEFA and FIFA member and some players leaving Albania to play for the Kosovo national side which played their debut World Cup qualifying campaign. Rivalry continues in bringing new talents, with players of Kosovo origin often in dilemma whether to join Albania or Kosovo although best players often end up with Albania.

In August 2016, soon after Kosovo was admitted as a FIFA member, three players of Kosovo roots, among whom Milot Rashica, a current Werder Bremen attacking midfielder, left Albania for Kosovo, marking the first talent row between the two neighboring countries.

Kosovo’s new coach, Bernard Challandes says rivalry with Albania over convincing players of Kosovo roots to play for Kosovo is a big problem for him and faces fierce competition with Albania and their Italian coach Christian Panucci.

“Competition with Albania is not a small problem for me. Both Panucci and I are aware about this and try hard about good players,” Challandes, an experienced Swiss coach, has told a portal focused on Albanians in Switzerland.

“For me as Kosovo's coach, it is important to do anything to convince players to play for Kosovo and not Albania, especially for players in Switzerland and Panucci does the same thing,” he adds.

Switzerland’s national side features several key players of Kosovo-Albanian roots and those who are not called up by the Switzerland usually face a dilemma whether to join the new Kosovo national side or more experienced Albania who in 2016 made their debut appearance at a major international competition such as Euro 2016.

The Xhaka brothers are unique in Europe with the younger Arsenal playmaker and Swiss international Granit Xhaka and his elder Basel and Albanian international player becoming Europe’s first two brothers to face each other in the Euro 2016 group stage fixture when debutant Albania played Switzerland.

“However, what's for sure is that in the end it is the player who decides. My fight is not between Switzerland and Kosovo, the war is maybe between Albania and Kosovo,” says Challandes, a former Armenia coach.

Last March Kosovo beat modest Madagascar and Burkina Faso in two friendlies following their debut World Cup qualifiers where they only managed to get an away draw to Finland.

Speaking about the friendly with Albania, the Kosovo coach says the atmosphere is very positive and brotherly.

“Of course this is a brothers' fight. I was a bit surprised as a Swiss at the beginning, and I thought it's a bit different, but I have seen that Kosovo lives with Albania and I can't tell whether I am in Kosovo or Albania. Kosovo played their qualifiers in Albania and that shows that Kosovo and Albania co-exist perfectly.  It's a preparatory game and we will play against a better and more experienced team that also made it to the European Championship,” says the Kosovo coach.

Lacking a stadium that meets standards, Kosovo have been playing their home qualifiers in Shkodra’s Loro Borici stadium, northern Albania.

The last time Albania and Kosovo played each other was in November 2015 after Albania secured a historic first-ever Euro 2016 appearance. Played in Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, the game ended in a 2-2 draw, in celebration of the historic achievement for Albanian football.

 

A friendly test

Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci says rivalry is not only with Kosovo but also with Switzerland.

“As far as talents are concerned, Albanians are divided into three countries and I have my scouts with whom I try to follow everybody. Then, if I see good elements, I introduce them with the call to join Albania, but the choice is in their hand,” says Panucci.

“It's a friendly and both the Kosovo coach and I target experimenting and get as good signals as possible ahead of the Nations League campaign,” adds Panucci.

Speaking about the players who have not been called up, Panucci says it's up to them to send signals of improvement and a better shape in order to call them up.

Albania is heading to the Kosovo and Ukraine friendlies with several key changes in their 24-man squad, heralding a new era following the national side historic 2016 appearance under former Albania coach Gianni De Biasi.

Having been sidelined by their clubs for most of the season, striker Armando Sadiku and midfielder Ledian Memushaj are two of the key players who have been left out for the two upcoming friendlies against Kosovo and Ukraine.

Coach Panucci has opted to test new Albanian Superliga talents for the offensive line and called up 21-year-old striker Kristal Abazaj and 24-year-old forward Sindrit Guri, both of whom will be playing for Belgian top league clubs Anderlecht and Oostende next season.

Egzon Binaku, a Sweden-born player of Kosovo-Albanian origin, is the surprise name on Panucci’s list.

Albania’s second friendly will be on June 3 against Ukraine, a much tougher national side whom Albania have only managed to get a draw and lost four times in World Cup qualifiers and friendlies in the past two decades.

The two friendlies are considered key ahead of next September’s start of the Nations League campaign against Israel and Scotland and the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers.

“I think we have done a good job but still have a lot to do to be ready for the Nations League. I want to finish first in that competition and we have all the strength to achieve that,” says Panucci.

The former Italian Real Madrid and AC Milan defender with not much coaching experience has been in charge of Albania since mid-2017. The 44-year-old Italian has led Albania in six games, winning a World Cup qualifier against modest Liechtenstein and a friendly against Turkey, but losing to European superpowers Spain and Italy and drawing against neighboring Macedonia in World Cup qualifiers and most recently against Norway in a friendly.

 

Albania - Kosovo 

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Stadion Letzigrund - Zurich; 20:00 

 

Albania - Ukraine 

Sunday, June 3 

Evian, France; 20:00

 
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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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