Albania’s Vllaznia suffer dramatic relegation ahead of hundredth anniversary

Albania’s Vllaznia suffer dramatic relegation ahead of hundredth anniversary

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, May 24 – Vllaznia have been relegated from the Albanian Superliga in a dramatic situation for an elite club with a hundred years of history in the top flight of Albanian football and who suffered their

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Key De Biasi era players left out for Albania’s upcoming friendlies

Key De Biasi era players left out for Albania’s upcoming friendlies

TIRANA, May 23 – 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. Coach

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Albania to play friendlies with Kosovo, Ukraine ahead of Nations League campaign

Albania to play friendlies with Kosovo, Ukraine ahead of Nations League campaign

TIRANA, May 16 – Albania will play two friendlies against Kosovo and Ukraine in the next couple of weeks in two key tests ahead of the Nations League campaign, says the country’s football association. The national side will be training

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Albanian elite club is one step from first-ever relegation

Albanian elite club is one step from first-ever relegation

TIRANA, May 14 – One of Albania’s elite clubs, Vllaznia is one step from a first-ever embarrassing relegation from the top flight of Albanian football with only two games remaining from the 2017-2018 Superliga season. The Shkodra-based club in northern

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Skenderbeu claim eighth Superliga title as club’s future depends on CAS decision

Skenderbeu claim eighth Superliga title as club’s future depends on CAS decision

TIRANA, May 10 – Albania’s Skenderbeu mathematically secured their eighth Superliga title, but the Albanian club’s participation in European Competition is in question following a UEFA punishment over match-fixing and all hopes are on the final say by Switzerland-based Court

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Another Albanian player heading for move to Belgian top league

Another Albanian player heading for move to Belgian top league

TIRANA, May 3 – Albania’s top scorer of this season, striker Sindri Guri, is heading for a move to the Belgian top league next season after a wonderful campaign with Kukes, the Superliga reigning champions. The 24-year striker is the

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Albania hands two-year ban to lifters over repeated doping cases

Albania hands two-year ban to lifters over repeated doping cases

TIRANA, May 3 – Albania’s National Olympic Committee has 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. The decision has

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Albania international claims fifth straight title in Azerbaijan

Albania international claims fifth straight title in Azerbaijan

TIRANA, April 23 – Former Albania captain Ansi Agolli has claimed his fifth championship in row with Qarabag, a team that made history in the Azerbaijani football this season when they became the first local club to reach the UEFA

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Albania to play Wales, Jordan in friendlies

Albania to play Wales, Jordan in friendlies

TIRANA, April 18 – Albania will play two home friendlies against Wales and Jordan next October and November during the ‘free’ international match days of the Nations League competition. The first friendly will be against Jordan on October 10, just

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Anderlecht sign Albanian Superliga talent

Anderlecht sign Albanian Superliga talent

TIRANA, April 17 – Kristal Abazaj has been transferred to Belgian giants Anderlecht in a surprise move for the Albanian forward, considered one of the greatest talents of the Albanian Superliga. The 21-year-old Luftetari striker has signed a three-year contract

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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, May 24 – Vllaznia have been relegated from the Albanian Superliga in a dramatic situation for an elite club with a hundred years of history in the top flight of Albanian football and who suffered their last demotion almost six decades ago in the early 1960s.

The Shkodra-based club, northern Albania, won two of their last Superliga games against second-placed Kukes and new champions Skenderbeu, but that was useless as their relegation zone rivals Kamza got a surprise 1-0 win in this week’s final sprint amid allegations of lack of motivation by Partizani.

Vllaznia were set for relegation two weeks ago after a shock 2-0 away defeat to Partizani extended their gap to nearest rivals Teuta and Kamza to five points, triggering protests by fans irritated over the club’s poor performance which they blame on Shkodra municipality, the largest local government unit in northern Albania which fully owns and manages the Vllaznia.

Vllaznia claimed a 5-1 away victory against unmotivated Skenderbeu who had already mathematically secured their eighth Superliga title three weeks ago. Wednesday’s game in Korça, southeastern Albania, marked tragedy for Vllaznia and celebration for Skenderbeu who lifted their eighth trophy, seven of which claimed in the past decade.

Vllaznia’s relegation comes amid financial problems and at a time when the club has been out of the top five since 2011-2012 campaign and failed to attract any investor following recent privatization plans.

Last year, Vllaznia escaped relegation in their final championship game decider with Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club which will be back to Superliga next season following an embarrassing first-ever relegation.

Having produced some of Albania’s best talents, Vllaznia is one of the eldest clubs in the country and have won nine championship titles and six Albanian Cups. Their relegation is the worst present to fans as the club will be celebrating their 100th anniversary of establishment in the second tier in February 2019.

Critics have blamed the 10-team Albanian Superliga that Albania has been applying since 2014 for the relegation of some of Albania’s elite clubs. Until 2013, the Albanian Superliga had 14 teams, four of which were relegated and played 26 matches in two stages.

The competition got tougher after Albania adopted a four-stage championship with ten teams and two relegations out of 36 league games.

With Skenderbeu temporarily suspended to appear at European competition following a tough UEFA ban of 10 years and a €1 million fine over match fixing, second placed Kukes are set to replace them in the Champions League preliminary campaign.

All eyes for Skenderbeu, the only Albanian team to have made it twice at the Europa League group stage, are now on Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration where they will be hoping to temporarily lift the UEFA punishment, allowing them to play for the upcoming Champions League campaign until a final court say.

Skenderbeu will play Laçi on May 27 in the Albanian Cup final, hopeful of celebrating a league and cup double.

Luftetari are the surprise team of this Superliga season as they finished third to secure a first-ever Europa League play-off. Their 24-year-old striker Kristal Abazaj will be playing for Belgian giants Anderlecht following a three-year contract for a reported €750,000 fee in the most expensive transfer for an Albanian player.

Kukes striker Sindrit Guri will also join Belgian top league side Oostende next season following an impressive season with Kukes, having scored 20 goals one fewer than top scorer Ali Sowe, Skenderbeu's Gambian striker.

Both Abazaj and Guri have received calls by Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci as two discoveries in this Superliga season in a national side dominated by players in top European leagues.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 23 – 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.

Coach Christian Panucci has left out ten key players of Albania’s Euro 2016 campaign either because of being sidelined by their European clubs for most of the season, injuries or already about to turn 36.

Striker Armando Sadiku, who this season tried two unsuccessful adventures in Poland and Spain, is among the players who have not been called up.

Things for 27-year forward who has been Albania's top scorer in the past six years have gone from bad to worse this season after he left Switzerland in mid-2017 to first play for Poland's Legia Warsaw before joining Spain's Levante in a surprise move last January.

Sadiku played 24 games for Legia but scored only seven goals, and has yet to score with Levante who escaped relegation in the Spanish top league, having managed to make only five appearances for the second half of the season.

The 26-year-old striker has scored 11 goals in 29 appearances with the national side helping Albania achieve a first-ever qualification in a major tournament such as Euro 2016. He also scored Albania’s sole goal in the Euro 2016 group stage games as Albania beat Romania 1-0 but failed to make it the knockout stage.

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.

Ledian Memushaj has also been left out after a disappointing second half of the season with his Benevento club who were relegated from Italy’s Serie A.

Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka has been left out because of an injury while former Albania captain Ansi Agolli who claimed his fifth Championship in row with Azerbaijan's Qarabag and made it to UEFA Champions League group stage is confirmed as no longer being part of Panucci's Nations League and Euro 2020 campaigns as he turns 36 this year.

Meanwhile, defender Mergim Mavraj has received a surprise call despite being sidelined by Hamburg for most of the season as the German Bundesliga club suffered their first ever relegation.

Egzon Binaku, a Sweden-born player of Kosovo-Albanian origin, is the surprise name on Panucci's list. Having previously played for Sweden's U-21,  the 22-year old plays as a defender for Sweden's Malmo and is considered a promising player to team up with Albania’s Seria A goalkeepers, Lazio's Thomas Strakosha or Atalanta's Etrit Berisha as well as Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj.

For coach Christian Panucci, the upcoming two friendlies will be a key test ahead of next September's Nations League campaign start.

"I understand the players have had a tiring season and done their best but they still have to do the best for the national side at the end of this season as there are no jokes with the national side," Panucci said earlier this month as he was watching Albanian Superliga talents.

"We are shaping the group. After the defeat against Norway I learned that we have to change something with a focus on the playing style," Panucci said.

Albania look far from the impressive form of the Euro 2016 campaign this year after making a poor start as they lost a home friendly against Norway, producing one of their worst performances in the past few years.

The national side will be training in Switzerland for about ten days in late May and will initially take on Kosovo on May 29 in what will be a small derby of Albanian roots as half of Albania’s national side players are of Kosovo-Albanian origin.

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.

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.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 16 – Albania will play two friendlies against Kosovo and Ukraine in the next couple of weeks in two key tests ahead of the Nations League campaign, says the country’s football association.

The national side will be training in Switzerland for about ten days in late May and will initially take on Kosovo on May 29 in what will be a small derby of Albanian roots as half of Albania’s national side players are of Kosovo-Albanian origin.

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 talents, with players of Kosovo origin in dilemma whether to join Albania or Kosovo.

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

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 for Albania’s coach Christian Panucci ahead of next September’s start of the UEFA Nations League campaign and forced changes in the national side as some key players of the national side’s Euro 2016 success have been sidelined by their European clubs for most of this season.

Striker Armando Sadiku, midfielder Ledian Memushaj and defender Mergim Mavraj, three key players of the national side, have not been in the starting line-ups with their Spanish, Italian and German top league clubs for most of the season, which is major setback for the national side and coach Panucci ahead of the Nations League, an inaugural UEFA tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

Two Albanian Superliga talents, 21-year-old striker Kristal Abazaj and 24-year-old Sindrit Guri, who will both be playing for Belgian top league clubs Anderlecht and Oostende next season, are set join the national side.

Albania has been drawn against Scotland and Israel in the Nations League Group 1 of League C, the only group featuring three teams, with the remaining three others showcasing four teams.

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.

Albania have made a poor start this year after losing a home friendly against Norway and making one of their worst performances in the past few years and look far from the impressive form of the Euro 2016 when they claimed their first-ever group stage appearance.

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.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 14 – One of Albania’s elite clubs, Vllaznia is one step from a first-ever embarrassing relegation from the top flight of Albanian football with only two games remaining from the 2017-2018 Superliga season.

The Shkodra-based club in northern Albania suffered a shock 2-0 away loss to Partizani last Sunday and are now five points behind their nearest rivals Teuta and Kamza, both of which claimed victories in their last championship games.

Having produced some of Albania’s best talents, Vllaznia is one of the eldest clubs in the country boasting 100 years of history and the only team not to have been relegated from the top flight of Albanian football since its beginnings in the early 1930s.

But with only two games remaining, the club find themselves in one of their most critical times and only a miracle would save them from relegation.

Vllaznia face two tough fixtures against second-placed Kukes and already mathematical winners Skenderbeu in their last two games and can make with only two victories hopeful that one of their nearest rivals will make a false step. Vllaznia are disadvantaged even if finishing on equal points with Teuta or Kamza because of negative head-to-head balance sheet which is the number one criterion in the ranking.

Last year, Vllaznia escaped relegation in their final championship game decider with Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club which will be back to Superliga next season following an embarrassing first-ever relegation.

Critics have blamed the 10-team Albanian Superliga that Albania has been applying since 2014 for the relegation of some of Albania’s elite clubs. Until 2013, the Albanian Superliga had 14 teams, four of which were relegated and played 26 matches in two stages.

The competition got tougher after Albania adopted a four-stage championship with ten teams and two relegations out of 36 league games.

Vllaznia’s likely relegation comes amid financial problems and at a time when the club has been out of the top five since 2011-2012 campaign.

In late 2017, the Shkodra municipality-run club unveiled plans to privatize the club or sell some of its shares in a bid to help the club escape its financial crisis, but the appeal failed to attract any investors.

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

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

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

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

Albania’s top flight clubs are both local investor and municipal-owned.
                    [post_title] => Albanian elite club is one step from first-ever relegation
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 10 – Albania’s Skenderbeu mathematically secured their eighth Superliga title, but the Albanian club’s participation in European Competition is in question following a UEFA punishment over match-fixing and all hopes are on the final say by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Skenderbeu came from behind to beat relegated Lushnja 4-2 in an away victory that secured the Korça-based southeast Albania club their eighth national title, seven of which during the past eight year and their debut title dating back to the early 1930s soon after the Albanian championship was founded.

Gambian striker Ali Sowe was Skenderbeu’s hero with a hat trick that took him to 19 goals for this season, trailing Albanian Kukes striker Sindri Guri by one goal with three other games to go.

Last year’s debut Superliga winners Kukes lost 3-2 away to Teuta but are set to finish second as they hold a comfortable 9-point lead over third-placed Luftetari and trail Kukes by 11 points for the three remaining games.

Skenderbeu seem to be heading for a double this year as they play fifth-placed Laçi in the Albanian Cup final on May 27.

With Skenderbeu’s European competition appearance uncertain due to the UEFA appeals body having upheld a 10-year ban on Skenderbeu from international competition, second-placed Kukes could replace Skenderbeu if the Court of Arbitration for Sport does not overturn the decision.

Skenderbeu won their first legal battle at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last April after CAS turned down a decision by Albania’s Football Association that stripped Skenderbeu of their 2015-2016 Superliga title over lack of legal basis in imposing sanctions at a national level following UEFA punishment over match fixing.

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

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

Skenderbeu, who deny match-fixing allegations, remain hopeful they will be allowed to participate in this year’s Champions League pre-qualification campaign as CAS examines their appeal.

The Korça-based team who have dominated Albanian football for the past decade are the only Albanian club to have made it to the UEFA Europa League group stage, with two appearances in the past three years.

A 10-year ban and a €1 million fine could give a severe blow to Skenderbeu’s future.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 3 - Albania's top scorer of this season, striker Sindri Guri, is heading for a move to the Belgian top league next season after a wonderful campaign with Kukes, the Superliga reigning champions.

The 24-year striker is the target of Gent and if the transfer is completed, he would become the second Albanian player to move to the Belgian championship for this year after Luftetari striker Kristal Abazaj was confirmed to join Belgian giants Anderlecht for next season.

Guri converted a wonderful free kick last weekend as his Kukes beat leaders Skenderbeu 1-0 in an away victory that counts much for their second place target which could take them to the Champions League qualifying campaign if Skenderbeu fail to overturn UEFA's 10-year ban over match fixing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Scouts from Belgium and Austria were reportedly watching the Albanian Superliga talent from the stadium in the encounter with Skenderbeu.

"It is true that there is great interest in me by foreign teams, however I have already made my choice. I believe that I will play in Belgium next season. My desire is to try a new adventure in the Belgian championship,” Guri has told local reporters.

The north-eastern based club with not much history in the top flight of Albanian football 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.

Kukes also put an end to the six-year domination of Skenderbeu, the only Albanian club to have made it to the UEFA Europa League group stage, with two appearances in the 2015 and 2017 seasons, but now facing the threat of a 10-year ban over match-fixing.

Kukesi’s Austrian coach Peter Pacult has been confirmed for another season as the northeastern Albania-based club are expected to replace Skenderbeu in the Champions League qualifying campaign if the ban on the club that has dominated Albanian football is upheld.

Last April, 21-year-old Luftetari striker Kristal Abazaj signed a three-year contract with Anderlecht for a reported €750,000 fee, in one of the most expensive transfers from the Albanian championship and the most expensive for an Albanian player.

Both Abazaj and Guri, two Albania-grown products, are considered promising talents that could serve the national side and coach Christian Panucci much for the country's Euro 2020 bid after Albania’s Euro 2016 debut under former coach Gianni De Biasi.

Back in 2015 soon after their debut Europa League group stage, Skenderbeu’s Nigerian striker Peter Olayinka was acquired by Belgian side Gent for a record €1.1 million fee in the Albanian championship but failed to impress. The 22-year-old now plays on loan at Zulte Waregem in the Belgian First Division A.
                    [post_title] => Another Albanian player heading for move to Belgian top league
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                    [post_date] => 2018-05-03 09:47:27
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 3 – Albania’s National Olympic Committee has 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. The decision has angered three Albanian lifters who were supposed to take part at the upcoming Mediterranean Games in Spain’s Tarragona next June.

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 strongly oppose the decision and have warned of undertaking legal action against the executive committee of Albania’s National Olympic Committee.

All three weightlifter have previously tested positive for doping in international competitions, and the National Olympic Committee fears any new doping case could lead to the suspension of Albania's weightlifting by the world weightlifting body.

In September 2017, the International Weightlifting Federation suspended nine countries, including Russia and China, from competition for one year in a bid to fight rampant doping in the sport.

Stavri Bello, the Secretary General of Albania’s National Olympic Committee, says the two-year ban handed to Albanian weightlifters will serve to discipline athletes over doping.

"The World Weightlifting Federation shows zero tolerance toward the use of doping. That was the reason why the executive board of the Albanian National Olympic Committee decided to suspend Albanian weightlifting by two years as a message even for other sports so that athletes become future models and the medals that come are clean,” says Bello, adding that eleven Albanian lifters have so far tested positive for doping.

The banned lifters say they will undertake legal action against what they call an unfair and discriminative decision that is not handed by the International Weightlifting Federation.

"We will undertake the right steps and protest and sue them because this is violation of human rights. We are not to blame for the federation's mismanagement. This is an individual sport and everybody is held responsible for their own tests," lifter Erkand Qerimaj has told reporters.

“The strangest thing is that we have been stripped of the right to participate by the Albanian National Olympic Committee and not the internationals which is a decision not based in any national or international law,” he adds.

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

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

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.

In 1972, late Ymer Pampuri set a world record at the Munich Olympic Games for the press at featherweight lifting 127.5 kg, finishing ninth overall following an injury. Pampuri, who died in early 2017 at 73, has since been a world record holder in the clean and press, which later in 1972 was removed from competition due to difficulties in judging proper technique and health concerns.

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

 

Tarragona 2018 

While weightlifting has been banned to participate at the upcoming Mediterranean Games in Spain’s Tarragona, Albania will be present at the multisport event with several athletes and is hopeful of bringing home a medal in athletics.

Izmir Smajlaj who in March 2017 was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships is a favorite to win a medal. The 25-year-old jumped 8.08 meters to break his own national record and beat Swedish favorite Michel Torneus, claiming Albania's first-ever gold medal at a European indoor event.

Middle-distance runner Luiza Gega is also a favorite. The 29-year-old runner 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.

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

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.

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.
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                    [post_date] => 2018-04-23 17:44:55
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 23 - Former Albania captain Ansi Agolli has claimed his fifth championship in row with Qarabag, a team that made history in the Azerbaijani football this season when they became the first local club to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage.

The 35-year old midfielder who also served as Albania's captain in the past couple of years has been playing with Qarabag for eight seasons now, but says he will continue to play as long as he feels well physically and his passion for football doesn't wane.

"I feel very well and hope to continue as long as possible with Qarabag because after almost eight years here I feel at home and everything is on track," Agolli told a local sports portal.

"The important thing in football, but even in other fields is the passion that you have for what you do and I will not stop as long as I have that passion and am physically fit," he added.

Qarabag become the first Azerbaijani club to make it to the UEFA Champions League group stage this season managing to get two points in home and away draws with Athletic Madrid in a tough group stage with Roma and Chelsea advancing to the knockout phase.

A regular starter for Qarabag, the Albanian left back is seen as a hero in his club. In 2016, he was named Azerbaijan's the best foreign player by Azerbaijan's football association.

Agolli, who this year turns 36, was left out of the Albania squad for the first Norway friendly Albania played last March, ahead of the Nations League campaign.

Albania narrowly lost 1-0 the home friendly, producing one of the worst performances in years.

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

His decision was met with criticism by some former players and coaches.

Agolli played 29 games this season for Qarabg who mathematically secured their fifth straight title, with four other games to go.

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

It remains unclear whether Agolli, a midfielder with a lot of experience who has 73 caps for Albania since 2005, will be called up.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 18 - Albania will play two home friendlies against Wales and Jordan next October and November during the 'free' international match days of the Nations League competition.

The first friendly will be against Jordan on October 10, just before they travel to Israel in their official second-leg encounter as part of the Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

On November 20, three days after Albania conclude their Nations League campaign, the national side host Wales, a team that also failed to make it to the Russia 2018 World Cup but features Gareth Bale, the Real Madrid striker considered one of the world's best.

Albania and Wales have faced each other only once in the Euro 1996 qualifying campaign with Albania losing its away first-leg fixture but drawing at home.

Wales currently rank 21st while Albania are 56th in FIFA rankings.

Albania's football association says the two friendlies complete the six matches Albania has to play in the campaign considering its three-team group and only four official games.

Albania has been drawn against Scotland and Israel in Group 1 of League C, the only group featuring three teams, with the remaining three others showcasing four teams.

Albania 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.

Albania have made a poor start this year after losing a home friendly against Norway and making one of their worst performances in the past few years and look far from the impressive form of the Euro 2016 when they claimed their first-ever group stage appearance.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 17 - Kristal Abazaj has been transferred to Belgian giants Anderlecht in a surprise move for the Albanian forward, considered one of the greatest talents of the Albanian Superliga.

The 21-year-old Luftetari striker has signed a three-year contract with Anderlecht for a reported €750,000 fee, in one of the most expensive transfers from the Albanian championship. However, three-quarters of the transfer fee goes to Albanian Superliga leaders Skenderbeu who signed the player last January but allowed him to play on loan at Luftetari for the second half of the season.

The sale operation comes at a time when Albanian Superliga leaders Skenderbeu have been given a ten-year ban and a €1 million fine by European football’s governing body, UEFA, over match-fixing. If upheld by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, the severe punishment calls the future of Albania’s most successful club of the past decade into question.

Grown up as a player in Albania, Abazaj is considered one of the most promising talents, recently receiving his first call-up with the national side by Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci.

For Abazaj, Anderlecht, a club where former Albanian international midfielder Besnik Hasi played and coached, will be his first international experience. The player will reportedly earn €200,000 a season.

"Abazaj is considered one of the greatest Albanian talents. We are so happy that such a promising player has chosen Anderlecht and I am sure he will realize his full potential with us," Luc Devroe, Anderlecht's sporting director, said as quoted in a statement by Belgium's most successful club.

Having scored nine goals for Luftetari this season, Abazaj says he looks forward to joining Anderlecht next summer.

"Anderlecht is a big name in European football and even in Albania. I am very happy to grow up in such a great club and look forward to joining them," Abazaj said.

Back in 2015 soon after their debut Europa League group stage, Skenderbeu's Nigerian striker Peter Olayinka was acquired by Belgian side Gent for a record €1.1 million fee in the Albanian championship but failed to impress. The 22-year-old now plays on loan at Zulte Waregem in the Belgian First Division A.
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            [post_date] => 2018-05-24 11:42:13
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            [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, May 24 – Vllaznia have been relegated from the Albanian Superliga in a dramatic situation for an elite club with a hundred years of history in the top flight of Albanian football and who suffered their last demotion almost six decades ago in the early 1960s.

The Shkodra-based club, northern Albania, won two of their last Superliga games against second-placed Kukes and new champions Skenderbeu, but that was useless as their relegation zone rivals Kamza got a surprise 1-0 win in this week’s final sprint amid allegations of lack of motivation by Partizani.

Vllaznia were set for relegation two weeks ago after a shock 2-0 away defeat to Partizani extended their gap to nearest rivals Teuta and Kamza to five points, triggering protests by fans irritated over the club’s poor performance which they blame on Shkodra municipality, the largest local government unit in northern Albania which fully owns and manages the Vllaznia.

Vllaznia claimed a 5-1 away victory against unmotivated Skenderbeu who had already mathematically secured their eighth Superliga title three weeks ago. Wednesday’s game in Korça, southeastern Albania, marked tragedy for Vllaznia and celebration for Skenderbeu who lifted their eighth trophy, seven of which claimed in the past decade.

Vllaznia’s relegation comes amid financial problems and at a time when the club has been out of the top five since 2011-2012 campaign and failed to attract any investor following recent privatization plans.

Last year, Vllaznia escaped relegation in their final championship game decider with Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club which will be back to Superliga next season following an embarrassing first-ever relegation.

Having produced some of Albania’s best talents, Vllaznia is one of the eldest clubs in the country and have won nine championship titles and six Albanian Cups. Their relegation is the worst present to fans as the club will be celebrating their 100th anniversary of establishment in the second tier in February 2019.

Critics have blamed the 10-team Albanian Superliga that Albania has been applying since 2014 for the relegation of some of Albania’s elite clubs. Until 2013, the Albanian Superliga had 14 teams, four of which were relegated and played 26 matches in two stages.

The competition got tougher after Albania adopted a four-stage championship with ten teams and two relegations out of 36 league games.

With Skenderbeu temporarily suspended to appear at European competition following a tough UEFA ban of 10 years and a €1 million fine over match fixing, second placed Kukes are set to replace them in the Champions League preliminary campaign.

All eyes for Skenderbeu, the only Albanian team to have made it twice at the Europa League group stage, are now on Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration where they will be hoping to temporarily lift the UEFA punishment, allowing them to play for the upcoming Champions League campaign until a final court say.

Skenderbeu will play Laçi on May 27 in the Albanian Cup final, hopeful of celebrating a league and cup double.

Luftetari are the surprise team of this Superliga season as they finished third to secure a first-ever Europa League play-off. Their 24-year-old striker Kristal Abazaj will be playing for Belgian giants Anderlecht following a three-year contract for a reported €750,000 fee in the most expensive transfer for an Albanian player.

Kukes striker Sindrit Guri will also join Belgian top league side Oostende next season following an impressive season with Kukes, having scored 20 goals one fewer than top scorer Ali Sowe, Skenderbeu's Gambian striker.

Both Abazaj and Guri have received calls by Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci as two discoveries in this Superliga season in a national side dominated by players in top European leagues.
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