Incumbent president re-elected for fifth consecutive term as head of Albania’s football

Incumbent president re-elected for fifth consecutive term as head of Albania’s football

TIRANA, Feb. 7 – Armand Duka has been reelected as the president of Albania’s football association, getting a fifth consecutive four-year term at the helm of the country’s most important sports organization. In a voting session held on Wednesday at

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Two Italy-based skiers represent Albania at South Korea’s Winter Olympics

Two Italy-based skiers represent Albania at South Korea’s Winter Olympics

TIRANA, Feb. 6 – Two Italy-based skiers will represent Albania in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea’s Pyeongchang in the country’s fourth consecutive appearance at the Winter Olympics. Erjon Tola and Suela Mehilli will both compete in alpine

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Albania international joins Spain’s Levante in surprise move

Albania international joins Spain’s Levante in surprise move

TIRANA, Jan. 31 – Albania’s best striker of the moment, Armando Sadiku, has been transferred to Levante in the Spanish top league in a surprise move following a lukewarm six-month spell with Poland’s reigning champions Legia Warsaw. The 26-year-old Albanian

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Albania drawn against Scotland, Israel in inaugural UEFA Nations League

Albania drawn against Scotland, Israel in inaugural UEFA Nations League

TIRANA, Jan. 24 – Albania have been drawn against Scotland and Israel in the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding

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Albanian lifter set for world bronze medal after Romanian rival fails doping test

Albanian lifter set for world bronze medal after Romanian rival fails doping test

TIRANA, Jan. 24 – Albania’s Erkand Qerimaj is on track to get a bronze medal in the men’s 77 kg after a Romanian weightlifter who finished third in snatch has been temporarily suspended over failing a doping test. The news

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Albanian gold medalist weightlifter suspended for a second time over doping

Albanian gold medalist weightlifter suspended for a second time over doping

TIRANA, Jan. 17 – Albania’s weightlifting has been hit by a new doping scandal, the second in the past three years, marring the reputation of one of Albania’s traditionally best performing sports on international stage. Romela Begaj, who last December

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Former Albania prime minister challenges incumbent football president’s 16-year reign

Former Albania prime minister challenges incumbent football president’s 16-year reign

TIRANA, Jan. 12 – Former Socialist Party Prime Minister Bashkim Fino has unveiled his much-rumored and expected candidacy to take over as the new head of Albania’s football association, challenging incumbent president Armand Duka who is seeking a fifth consecutive

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Kukes hire experienced Austrian coach to defend Albanian Superliga title

Kukes hire experienced Austrian coach to defend Albanian Superliga title

TIRANA, Jan. 10 – Albania’s defending champions Kukes have hired an experienced Austrian coach following their poor start this season as they trail leaders Skenderbeu by 12 points. Peter Pacult, a former striker who has trained teams in Austria and

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

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

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

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2017 Sport in review

2017 Sport in review

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

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135698" align="alignright" width="300"]Armand Duka was re-elected as head of Albania's football association for a fifth four-year term Armand Duka was re-elected as head of Albania's football association for a fifth four-year term[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 7 - Armand Duka has been reelected as the president of Albania’s football association, getting a fifth consecutive four-year term at the helm of the country’s most important sports organization.

In a voting session held on Wednesday at a seaside hotel in the city of Durres, 55-year-old incumbent president Duka beat main rival Bashkim Fino, a former Prime Minister and current ruling Socialist Party MP, by 38 votes to 24.

The winner was decided in a run-off vote after none of the initial three candidates managed to get the qualified majority of 2/3 of votes by the 66 delegates.

Shpetim Hala, a sports journalist and former referee in inferior Italian football leagues, managed to get no votes at all.

Speaking after his re-election Duka said the elections held by the football association’s General Assembly met standards.

"I am happy and excited not because of the fact that I will be the president, but because of the reliability and I feel deeply obliged that something more difficult awaits me starting today," Duka said.

The 55-year incumbent president and businessman with stakes in several food and electronic equipment companies has been in office as the president of Albania’s most popular sport since 2002 and managed to get easily re-elected although having no prior sports background.

His main rival Bashkim Fino described the process as irregular and warned he would take legal action in Albania, the European and world football governing bodies UEFA and FIFA and even address Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

A former short-term consensual Prime Minister during the country's 1997 turmoil, Fino strongly opposed the participation of 12 sports associations which he called ‘ghost organizations’ in the voting process, claiming they were unregistered with local courts.

"We will take this issue to the end, for the football's own good. We will respect Albanian courts and then address not only the Court of Arbitration for Sport but also FIFA," says Fino, a 55-year-old veteran politician.

Albanian international and club football has progressed in the past few years as the national side made a first ever appearance at a major competition and Skenderbeu made it twice to the UEFA Europa League group stage although it was banned for one year from international football on match fixing allegations in the 2016-2017 season and had its 2016 Superliga title lifted.

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

New coach Christian Panucci, the successor of Gianni De Biasi, has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target following his good start with the national side since taking over in mid-2017.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 6 – Two Italy-based skiers will represent Albania in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea's Pyeongchang in the country's fourth consecutive appearance at the Winter Olympics.

Erjon Tola and Suela Mehilli will both compete in alpine skiing, the only discipline Albania has contested since the 2006 debut appearance.

Suela Mehilli, who in 2014 became the first female athlete from any sport to represent Albania at the Sochi Winter Olympics, will be this year's flag bearer for Albania.

"This will be the second Olympic Games for me. I am so proud of representing Albania worldwide and this will be special experience for me," Mehilli, a 24-year-old skier said as she was handed the Albania flag by Ilir Meta, the country’s president, at a ceremony last weekend.

Mehilli has been living in Italy since she was three years old when she moved from Albania. She trains in Cuneo, a Piedmont region province in northwestern Italy bordering France.

Meanwhile, Erjon Tola who in 2006 became the first ever Albanian athlete to represent Albania at the Winter Olympics, will be making his fourth consecutive appearance in alpine skiing.

The 31-year-old Albanian skier also began skiing in Italy when he was six after his family moved from Albania to Italy.

Viron Bezhani, the president of the Albanian National Olympic Committee said the special thing about this year's participation is that both Albanian athletes qualified for the Winter Olympics and didn't need any invitations.

Both athletes were awarded Olympic scholarships by the Albanian National Olympic Committee to help with expenses in the run-up to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Albania lacks proper professional ski facilities and has no early tradition in Winter Olympic disciplines, although some mountain areas have a huge potential to develop ski resorts.

Scheduled to take place from February 9 to 25, the 2018 Winter Olympics will feature 102 events in 15 sport disciplines, making it the first Winter Games to surpass 100 medal events.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135600" align="alignright" width="300"]sadiku 2 Levante welcomed Sadiku with a poster reading Miresevini, the Albanian word for Welcome. "Armando Sadiku is a new player of #LevanteUD. The Albanian player comes from Legia Warsaw!" Levante wrote on social media[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 31 – Albania’s best striker of the moment, Armando Sadiku, has been transferred to Levante in the Spanish top league in a surprise move following a lukewarm six-month spell with Poland’s reigning champions Legia Warsaw.

The 26-year-old Albanian international has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with the Spanish top league club for a reported transfer fee of about €1 million.

Sadiku is one of the reinforcements Levante has made in the January transfer window as the Valencia-based club is struggling just above the relegation zone and remaining in the La Liga is its top priority.

In addition to competition with Spain forward Ivi Lopez, Sadiku will also face competition from Italian Giampaolo Pazzini, the new Levante signing from Verona football club.

Sadiku will join Enis Bardhi, an ethnic Albanian who represents Macedonia internationally, at Levante, becoming the sole Albanian international to play in what is considered one of the world’s toughest leagues.

Rey Manaj is another Albanian international who plays in Spain's second division with Granada.

The Levante move is a turning point for Sadiku who has already joined the club's training and could make his debut this weekend as the Valencia-based club host giants Real Madrid who have been playing one of their worst seasons.

His transfer comes after only six months with Legia Warsaw and a six-year spell in Switzerland.

Sadiku, who was recently being used as a second-half substitute in Poland played 24 games for Legia since joining last July but scored only seven goals, four of which in the Polish Cup, one in the Champions League qualifying campaign and only two in 17 Polish league appearances.

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.

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

Having started his career in his hometown of Elbasan, central Albania, Sadiku played in Switzerland for six years with clubs such as Zurich and Lugano before joining Legia Warsaw in July 2017.

Albania who were recently drawn against Scotland and Israel in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, will play Norway in a friendly on March 26.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 24 – Albania have been drawn against Scotland and Israel in the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

Having been previously lined up in League C, Albania was drawn in Group 1, the only one featuring three teams, with the remaining three league groups showcasing four teams.

Scotland, a team which Albania has never faced before is the toughest team in the group, with a lot of experience in World Cup and European tournaments, currently 32nd in the FIFA world rankings, but having failed to reach a major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

Israel, a team which Albania first faced in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, finished fourth in the group stage last September, trailing third-placed Albania by one point as both sides got 3-0 away victories in their two-legged encounters.  Both Albania and Israel played in a tough qualifying campaign that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy, the latter failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades after losing a play-off with Sweden.

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

Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci described the group as balanced, saying he would have preferred a four-team group.

"That is a very balanced group with three tough teams. It's a group with three teams that allows you to make fewer mistakes. We will rival for the first place," said Panucci.

A former AC Milan, Real Madrid defender whose Albania job is his first experience as a national side manager, Panucci has been in charge since mid-2017, succeeding compatriot Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to a first ever appearance at a major tournament such as the Euro 2016.

"We have a team that can lead the group and we will play to the end. In order to secure qualification, all you have to do is win the matches. It is not important how many opponents we will be playing with, we will play an offensive and courageous football," Panucci said.

Featuring 55 European national sides divided into four leagues, the UEFA Nations League group games will be held over six matchdays, during the ‘double-headers’ in September, October and November 2018. Albania, who was drawn in three-team group, will only play four matches against Scotland and Israel.

The UEFA Nations League 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 UEFA EURO 2020 will enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

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

Last November, Albania beat Turkey 3-2 in a surprise away victory as the Red & Blacks played in 10 men for most of the time in the fifth match under coach Panucci who has been set a Euro 2020 qualification task.

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

Albania will play Norway in a friendly on March 26, but coach Panucci says the national side staff is also negotiating to play two teams who have qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 24 - Albania's Erkand Qerimaj is on track to get a bronze medal in the men's 77 kg after a Romanian weightlifter who finished third in snatch has been temporarily suspended over failing a doping test.

The news comes as a relief for Albanian weightlifting which has been hit by a new doping scandal after Romela Begaj tested positive, with the International Weightlifting Federation provisionally suspending her and stripping her of the medals she claimed in late 2017 at the IWF World championships in the U.S.

Begaj, who last December became Albania’s first ever world champion in women’s weightlifting, tested positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance, which she also failed in a 2014, leading to a two-year ban. If confirmed positive in the B sample, the Albanian weightlifter risks facing a four-year ban and could also be banned for life, experts say.

The doping scandal, the second for Begaj in the past three years led to the resignation of the president of Albania's Weightlifting Federation and Albania losing its right to host the 2018 Senior European Weightlifting Championships originally scheduled to take place in Tirana next March.

“Unfortunately the Executive Board of the Albanian Weightlifting Federation resigned because of a doping problem and the Albanian federation cannot organize the next Senior EWC at the end of March,” the EWF said in a statement, adding that it is looking for a new host country.

Erkand Qerimaj who lifted 155 kg in snatch finishing fourth is now heading for a bronze medal after Romanian weightlifter Dumitru Captari, the original bronze medal winner with 156 kg, tested positive for a banned substance.

Qerimaj finished sixth overall with a total of 342 kg after poor performance in the clean & jerk where he came ninth lifting 187 kg.

"That is very good news not only for me but all Albanians," said Qerimaj, adding that both his blood and urine tests were clean.

The 27-year-old failed a doping test in 2012. Initially given a two-year ban, he returned to competition in July 2013 but was stripped of the gold medal he had won at the 2012 European Championships in Antalya, Turkey.

Albanian weightlifters have tested positive for doping ten 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.
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                    [post_date] => 2018-01-17 16:10:38
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 17 - Albania's weightlifting has been hit by a new doping scandal, the second in the past three years, marring the reputation of one of Albania's traditionally best performing sports on international stage.

Romela Begaj, who last December became Albania's first ever world champion in women's weightlifting has failed a doping test, provisionally suspending her and stripping her of the medals she won at the late 2017 IWF World championships in the U.S..

The 31-year-old athlete has tested positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance, which she also failed in a 2014, leading to a two-year ban. If confirmed positive in the B sample, the Albanian weightlifter risks facing a four-year ban and could also be banned for life, experts say.

Gazmend Hackani, Romela Begaj's coach and husband, claims his wife has used no banned substance and is optimistic the B sample will prove it.

Competing in the women’s 69 kg, Begaj won gold in the snatch with 107 kg and silver in total with 235 kg after finishing fifth in the clean and jerk with 128 kg.

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

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

In 1972, late Ymer Pampuri set a world record at the Munich Olympic Games for the press at featherweight lifting 127.5 kg, finishing ninth overall following an injury. Pampuri, who died in early 2017 at 73, has since been a world record holder in the clean and press, which later in 1972 was removed from competition due to difficulties in judging proper technique and health concerns.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135334" align="alignright" width="300"]Ruling Socialist Party MP and former Prime Minister, Bashkim Fino Ruling Socialist Party MP and former Prime Minister, Bashkim Fino[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 12 – Former Socialist Party Prime Minister Bashkim Fino has unveiled his much-rumored and expected candidacy to take over as the new head of Albania’s football association, challenging incumbent president Armand Duka who is seeking a fifth consecutive four-year term in next February’s elections.

Speaking in an interview with Albania’s public broadcaster, RTSH, on Thursday night, the experienced left-wing politician said he accepted the challenge in a bid to change Albanian football and its image.

Fino says the first thing he wants to change is the football image and will fight for fair play and bring back fans to stadiums.

"I think it is time to make a change in Albanian football and give it a new image," Fino has said, admitting that beating Duka will be tough due to the short time at his disposal and his long tenure at the helm of Albanian football.

The 55-year-old Socialist Party lawmaker served as the mayor of Gjirokastra in the early 1990s soon after the collapse of the country's communist regime and a short-term consensual Prime Minister of the country during the 1997 turmoil triggered by the collapse of some pyramid investment schemes. He is known for his passion for football and is often seen on stadiums attending matches.

Asked if his candidacy could lead to political interference, Fino said there is no barrier preventing him from the legal point of view and that he is not going to give up his MP mandate ahead of the race.

"I am an experienced politician. I have graduated in finance. I was a mayor, a prime minister. I am an MP and a member of the legal affairs committee. From the legal point of view, nothing prevents me from running. The Albanian Football Association is a non-profit NGO and there is no barrier. Politically speaking, I am nobody. I am somebody who wants to serve football. If I am voted on February, I will only dedicate myself to football," Fino said.

The politician also says he will propose limiting the football association president's terms of office to two from a current unlimited number.

Duka's challenger says he will initiate legal action against eight regional associations with a right to vote in next February’s elections but not registered with the country's courts yet.

In the February 7 elections, the president will be elected by 66-member General Assembly composed of presidents of elite and lower division clubs as well as 12 sports associations, of which eight regional ones. A second round with a simple majority is held in case any of the candidates fails to get the initial qualified majority 2/3 of the votes, some 44 votes.

 

Duka’s fifth consecutive bid

[caption id="attachment_135335" align="alignright" width="300"]Incumbent head of Albania's football association, Armand Duka Incumbent head of Albania's football association, Armand Duka[/caption]

Incumbent president Armand Duka has said he decided to run for another mandate despite question marks over his long tenure and another person with new energy being given the opportunity to take over.

"It's not that I haven't thought about that but considering that there are no other alternatives that would take football forward, and considering that the relationship I have shaped with the community to develop this organization is positive and the experience we have had together can help Albanian football, that was what led me to make this positive decision,” Duka has said.

Speaking about Fino's candidacy, Duka said the he would like to see his opponent stripped of his party functions as an organizing secretary.

"I would like to see that as an initiative of Bashkim Fino and his friends supporting him and not as an initiative of the Socialist Party organizing secretary," he says.

"The rising popularity of football among children, youngsters, women, the results of the national side with the major target of qualifying for the Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, the clubs' international achievements, the football policies and the guaranteed future give me confidence that we will decide for a better Albanian football," Duka said after announcing his candidacy.

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

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

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

The race is expected to be tough and decided by a small margin, which is also hinted by Fino’s reluctance to give up his MP mandate ahead of the race.

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

Albanian international and club football has progressed in the past few years as the national side made a first ever appearance at a major competition and Skenderbeu made it twice to the UEFA Europa League group stage although it was banned for one year from international football on match fixing allegations in the 2016-2017 season and had its 2016 Superliga title lifted.

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

New coach Christian Panucci, the successor of Gianni De Biasi, has been set a Euro 2020 qualification target following his good start with the national side since taking over in mid-2017.
                    [post_title] => Former Albania prime minister challenges incumbent football president’s 16-year reign
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135290" align="alignright" width="300"]pacult Austrian coach Peter Pacult. Photo: FK Kukes[/caption]

TIRANA, Jan. 10 - Albania's defending champions Kukes have hired an experienced Austrian coach following their poor start this season as they trail leaders Skenderbeu by 12 points.

Peter Pacult, a former striker who has trained teams in Austria and Germany, Slovenia and Croatia top leagues joined the Albanian debut champions in the first days of January after the north-east Albania club sacked Serbian coach Mladen Milinković following two humiliating losses.

The 58-year-old former Rapid Wien and Leipzig coach has been training the team in Turkey where he surprised two Turkish top league teams, Kayserispor and Bursaspor, with 2-1 victories in preparatory friendlies ahead of the Superliga resumption on January 20 following the winter break.

"My target is to make Kukes play good football and achieve the expected results at the end of the season. We have another 20 golden games and the important thing is to achieve success with the help of the sporting director and the team. I like offensive football and will fight to apply it" Pacult told a press conference last week in Tirana.

Kukes have collected only 25 points in their first 16 games of this season, ranking fourth and trailing leaders Skenderbeu by 12 points.

The defending champions have made two reinforcement so far in the January transfer window, hiring Kosovo playmaker Donjet Shkodra from Skenderbeu and Georgian midfielder Irakli Dzaria from the Georgian championship.

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.
                    [post_title] => Kukes hire experienced Austrian coach to defend Albanian Superliga title
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135270" align="alignright" width="300"]Socialist Party MP Bashkim Fino  Socialist Party MP Bashkim Fino[/caption]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Izmir Smajlaj claims first ever European indoor gold medal

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

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

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

 

May 

Minnows Kukes claim first Superliga title

Having played in the top flight of Albanian football for only the past five years, north-east Albania-based Kukes made history in the Albanian Superliga as they beat rivals Skenderbeu amid controversy to claim their first championship in their penultimate game.

With Skenderbeu in 9-men for about 30 minutes, it wasCroatian striker Pero Pejic again who sealed the result with an injury time goal to give Kukes a four-point lead over second-placed Partizani and Skenderbeu and make history for Kukes, with not much history in Albanian football, but having finished second three times in their past five years of playing in the Superliga.

The victory also put an end to Skenderbeu’s domination of Albania football after the south-east Albania-based club won the Albanian Superliga for six consecutive years.

 

Tirana relegated after a century in top flight

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

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

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

 

June 

De Biasi unexpectedly resigns as Albania coach

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

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

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

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

 

First Albanian woman climbs Everest

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 

Euro 2020 qualification target set for new Albania coach

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

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

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

The 44-year old has little experience as a manager, but his young age and modest financial criteria seem to have led to a deal. Panucci’s managerial experience started in 2012 when he served as assistant to Fabio Capello, one of the greatest Italian coaches, when he was leading the Russian national side. Panucci also managed Serie B sides Livorno, Ternana in the past couple of years.

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

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

 

October

Albania conclude World Cup qualifying campaign

Albania concluded their World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow 1-0 loss against four-time world champions Italy, finishing third in a tough group stage dominated by Spain who automatically qualified for Russia 2018.

The national side produced a good performance and were almost equal to the Italians who later lost their play-off against Sweden failing to qualify for the World Cup tournament for the first time in six decades.

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

Albania collected 13 points in 10 matches in the World Cup qualifying campaign and much of the success for finishing third is dedicated to Gianni De Biasi, Christian Pannuci’s predecessor who led Albania to first-ever appearance to a major competition such as Euro 2016.

 

November

Ten-man Albania surprise Turkey with away victory

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

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

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

 

Home win against Dynamo Kiev not enough for Skenderbeu

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

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

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

 

 
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135698" align="alignright" width="300"]Armand Duka was re-elected as head of Albania's football association for a fifth four-year term Armand Duka was re-elected as head of Albania's football association for a fifth four-year term[/caption]

TIRANA, Feb. 7 - Armand Duka has been reelected as the president of Albania’s football association, getting a fifth consecutive four-year term at the helm of the country’s most important sports organization.

In a voting session held on Wednesday at a seaside hotel in the city of Durres, 55-year-old incumbent president Duka beat main rival Bashkim Fino, a former Prime Minister and current ruling Socialist Party MP, by 38 votes to 24.

The winner was decided in a run-off vote after none of the initial three candidates managed to get the qualified majority of 2/3 of votes by the 66 delegates.

Shpetim Hala, a sports journalist and former referee in inferior Italian football leagues, managed to get no votes at all.

Speaking after his re-election Duka said the elections held by the football association’s General Assembly met standards.

"I am happy and excited not because of the fact that I will be the president, but because of the reliability and I feel deeply obliged that something more difficult awaits me starting today," Duka said.

The 55-year incumbent president and businessman with stakes in several food and electronic equipment companies has been in office as the president of Albania’s most popular sport since 2002 and managed to get easily re-elected although having no prior sports background.

His main rival Bashkim Fino described the process as irregular and warned he would take legal action in Albania, the European and world football governing bodies UEFA and FIFA and even address Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

A former short-term consensual Prime Minister during the country's 1997 turmoil, Fino strongly opposed the participation of 12 sports associations which he called ‘ghost organizations’ in the voting process, claiming they were unregistered with local courts.

"We will take this issue to the end, for the football's own good. We will respect Albanian courts and then address not only the Court of Arbitration for Sport but also FIFA," says Fino, a 55-year-old veteran politician.

Albanian international and club football has progressed in the past few years as the national side made a first ever appearance at a major competition and Skenderbeu made it twice to the UEFA Europa League group stage although it was banned for one year from international football on match fixing allegations in the 2016-2017 season and had its 2016 Superliga title lifted.

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

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