Several Albanian internationals move to new European clubs

Several Albanian internationals move to new European clubs

TIRANA, Aug. 30 – Several Albanian internationals moved to new clubs in the summer transfer window as the 2017-2018 season has already kicked off in major European leagues. Striker Sokol Cikalleshi, who has been playing in Turkey’s top flight division

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Albania calls up new players for ‘derby’ qualifier with Macedonia

Albania calls up new players for ‘derby’ qualifier with Macedonia

TIRANA, Aug. 28 – Italian Christian Pannuci has called up three new players for Albania’s next two World Cup qualifiers in early September, heralding a new era in the national side after the departure of Gianni De Biasi last June.

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Albania’s Skenderbeu claim historic Europa League group stage qualification

Albania’s Skenderbeu claim historic Europa League group stage qualification

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Aug. 25 – Albania’s Skenderbeu claimed a historic UEFA Europa League group stage qualification on Thursday night as they held Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb to a goalless draw in a play-off, making it thanks to an away

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Albania’s Skenderbeu one step away from repeating Europa League history

Albania’s Skenderbeu one step away from repeating Europa League history

By Ervin Lisaku TIRANA, Aug. 18 – Albania’s Skenderbeu are only one step away from repeating history in the UEFA Europa League after being held to a dramatic draw by Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in the first-leg away fixture of the

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Italian Moggi targets turning Albania’s Partizani into ‘little Juventus’

Italian Moggi targets turning Albania’s Partizani into ‘little Juventus’

TIRANA, Aug. 8 – Tirana-based Partizani have hired an Italian coach and several new players, including Albanian international striker Edgar Çani in a bid to make a decades-long comeback as Albania Superliga champions after finishing second in the past two

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Albania’s Skenderbeu progress to Europa League play-offs

Albania’s Skenderbeu progress to Europa League play-offs

TIRANA, Aug. 4 – Skenderbeu progressed to the UEFA Europa League play-offs on Thursday night as they eliminated Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in a penalty shootout after extra time finished 2-1, making it  3-3 on aggregate. Skenderbeu, who lost the

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Albania’s Skenderbeu progress to third Europa League qualifying round

Albania’s Skenderbeu progress to third Europa League qualifying round

TIRANA, July 21 – Skenderbeu progressed to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League after beating Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty 3-1 on aggregate, remaining the sole Albanian club in European competition after all Kukes, Partizani and Tirana were disqualified

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Euro 2020 qualification target set for new Albania coach

Euro 2020 qualification target set for new Albania coach

TIRANA, July 19 – Italian Christian Pannuci 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.

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Christian Pannuci set to become Albania’s new coach

Christian Pannuci set to become Albania’s new coach

TIRANA, July 18 – Italian Christian Pannuci is expected to take over as the new Albania coach, replacing compatriot Gianni De Biasi, who led the Albania national side for the past five and a half years. Although not yet official,

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Sadiku leaves Switzerland to move to Legia Warsaw

Sadiku leaves Switzerland to move to Legia Warsaw

TIRANA, July 13 – Albania’s Armando Sadiku has moved to Legia Warsaw on a three-year contract with one of Poland’s most successful clubs, abandoning Switzerland where he played for the past six years with several top flight clubs. The transfer

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 30 - Several Albanian internationals moved to new clubs in the summer transfer window as the 2017-2018 season has already kicked off in major European leagues.

Striker Sokol Cikalleshi, who has been playing in Turkey’s top flight division for the past three years scoring 13 goals, has signed a new 3-year contract with Osmanlispor after spending half of the previous season with Akhisar on loan from Basaksehir. The new contract negotiations also led to his last-minute disciplinary dismissal from the 24-men squad coach Christian Pannuci called up for Albania’s next two World Cup qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Macedonia in early September.

“I respect the coach's decision because at the end of the day, he has his own rules. It was just a misunderstanding," Cikalleshi said after being left out of the squad due to not making it in time.

The 27-year-old striker was transferred for €2 million to Osmanlıspor, an Ankara-based club with not much history in the top Turkish league. He will reportedly earn €850,000 a season, apparently making him the second best paid Albanian internationals after Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj.

A product of the Albanian championship where he played several years until 2014, Cikalleshi has been playing in Turkey since 2015 following a brief spell in Croatia with Split.

Other important transfers for the new season include Ledian Memushaj’s move from demoted Pescara which he captained from 2016 to Serie A newly promoted Benevento.

Albania's promising forward Rey Manaj was surprisingly transferred to Granada in Spain's second division on loan from Inter Milan, but with a sale option. The forward made a lackluster performance on loan to Pescara and Pisa in the previous season. Having made only three appearances with the national side, Manaj still has to earn a place.

Earlier this summer, Armando Sadiku moved to Legia Warsaw on a three-year contract with one of Poland’s most successful clubs, leaving Switzerland where he played for the past six years with several top flight clubs. The national side's key striker has already scored twice in the top Polish league.

Midfielder Liridon Latifi who helped Skenderbeu earn a second historic Europa league qualification has also left Albania's most successful club of the past decade, after making history in European competitions.

The 23-year old Kosovo-born playmaker and Albanian international was hailed as a hero by Skenderbeu players and fans as he bid goodbye to Skenderbeu after almost three years to move to Hungarian top league side Puskas Academy.

Kosovo-born Albanian international Ermir Lenjani has also moved to Switzerland's Sion recently following two unsuccessful seasons with Rennes and Nantes in France.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133599" align="alignright" width="300"]balliu Spain-born Metz defender Ivan Balliu has received his first Albania call-up[/caption]

TIRANA, Aug. 28 – Italian Christian Pannuci has called up three new players for Albania’s next two World Cup qualifiers in early September, heralding a new era in the national side after the departure of Gianni De Biasi last June.

Albania will play home to modest Liechtenstein on September 2, before travelling to neighboring Macedonia three days later on Sept. 5 in tough qualifier that is also considered a “small Albanian derby” as the Macedonian national side has called up four ethnic Albanian players while one of new entries in the Albanian national side is an ethnic Albanian born in Macedonia.

The three new players Pannuci has called up for the next two qualifiers include Spain-born defender of Albanian origin Ivan Balliu, Albania-born, Italy-raised left back Hysen Memolla who plays for Croatia's Hajduk Split and Macedonia-born Valon Ahmedi, an attacking midfielder for Maribor, Slovenia's most successful club.

Balliu, recently awarded the Albanian citizenship, is regarded as the most promising entry. He is expected to team up with Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj, the target of many big clubs this summer, as well as Hamburger defender Mergim Mavraj, strengthening Albania’s suffering defense after the departure of former captain Lorik Cana in mid-2016.

Born to an Albanian father and a Spanish mother, Balliu, 25, grew up as a professional player from the Barcelona youth academy. He was called up for Spain’s U16 and U17 and played Barcelona B and Portugal’s Arouca before joining Metz at the top French league in 2015.

Among those missing Albania’s call up is Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka, the brother of Swiss international and Arsenal playmaker Granit Xhaka who in the Euro 2016 group stage became the first two brothers to face each other for different national sides in a European competition.

The 26-year-old midfielder has not been called up in the national side since late March after an argument with De Biasi following the Italy qualifier after he was not used as an option. Pannuci reportedly failed to meet him while in Switzerland, leading to his omission.

Greece's Paok defensive midfielder Albanian Ergys Kaçe and Kosovo-born Ermir Lenjani who has recently moved to Switzerland's Sion, a new club where he can regularly play after an unsuccessful 2-year spell with Nantes, have also been left out of the 24-men squad.

The list has been reduced to 23 men as striker Cikalleshi was also left out in a last-minute decision by coach Pannuci due to failing to make it in time because of contract talks in Turkey where he has been playing for the past three years.

The two qualifiers are also a test for new coach Pannuci, a 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience, but a strong desire to be a decent successor to his compatriot De Biasi, Albanian most successful coach who managed to take the national side to a first-ever major competition such as Euro 2016 during his five-and-a-half year lead.

With four other games to go, Albania stand almost zero chances to make it to the World Cup in a tough group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain who seem unrivalled in the top two finish.

The national side’s goal is to finish third, above rivals Israel and Macedonia, and prepare for the Euro 2020 qualification bid Italian Pannuci has been tasked with in his two-and-a-half-year contract.

“I think we have a good team. I will try to unfold my ideas gradually. We will work in a specific way in an attempt to beat Liechtenstein and Macedonia,” Pannuci told a press conference on Monday.

"Unfortunately, I had to make some decisions. We have Aliji [Kaiserslautern defender] who hasn't played and Memolla who is playing well. I went to watch Balliu and he is a good athlete, a player who has to improve a lot, but who I think deserved the opportunity to be called up with the national side also because of playing with Metz,” said the Italian.

“Ahmedi has special characteristics. He is left-footed and is skilled at one-on-one,” the coach said about the Maribor attacking midfielder.

Albania's seems slightly advantaged for the Macedonia qualifier as the national side will initially play home to Liechtenstein which has yet to earn a point while Macedonia will first travel to Israel before taking on Albania.

Albania’s football association had earlier complained Macedonian authorities have selected a small stadium “not meeting international standards.”

UEFA has decided the September 5 qualifier between the two neighboring countries will be played in Mladost Stadium in Strumica town, east of the country close to Macedonia’s border with Bulgaria, and not in capital city Skopje, apparently on security grounds and in to avoid any possible fan conflict considering the sizeable presence of the ethnic Albanian population in Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a third of the 2 million population in Macedonia, where ethnic tensions are still present.

 

‘A small Albanian derby’

 The September 5 match is also considered a small Albanian derby due to the sizable presence of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and both national sides featuring players of Albanian descent.

Macedonia have called up four ethnic Albanian players while newly called up attacking midfielder Valon Ahmedi could become the first Macedonia-born footballer to play against his home country.

The Maribor attacking midfielder replaces Naser Aliji, the Kaiserslautern defender who has not been called up by Pannuci due to few playing opportunities with his Bundesliga 2 club.

"I was born in Ohrid, but I am Albanian and it was a pleasure to choose Albania. It was my desire but especially my parents' desire that I play for Albania. I was pressured by Macedonia, but I made my choice and I feel happy for this. I felt I was part of the Red & Black national side and if the coach gives me some minutes I will do my best. I chose with my heart,” Ahmedi has told Albanian reporters.

The four ethnic Albanian players in Macedonia's squad include the captain of Shkendija, the Albanian-owned club in the top Macedonian league who made it to the Europa League play-offs this month but were eliminated by Italian giants AC Milan, Leeds attacking midfielder Ezgjan Alioski who teamed up with Albanian striker Armando Sadiku at Switzerland’s Lugano in the previous season, Macedonia’s Vardar defender Visar Musliu and Spain's Levante talent Enis Bardhi.

Macedonia has proved tough on home soil in the World Cup qualification campaign with Italy needing an injury time goal to make it 3-2 and Spain narrowly winning 2-1.

Albania also needed a late header by Bekim Balaj to win 2-1 in their opening World Cup qualification campaign against Macedonia in Sept. 2016. The home victory came as the qualifier was initially abandoned at a 1-1 draw due to torrential rain and the game’s remaining 14 minutes at the Shkodra stadium were played the next day. The equalizer was scored by ethnic Albanian Ezgjan Alioski.

Albania’s World Cup campaign received a boost last June after the national side beat Israel 3-0 in an away qualifier to avenger the first-leg home defeat.

The away victory temporary places Albania third with 9 points, leading Israel on goal difference.

The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

[caption id="attachment_133588" align="alignright" width="300"]skend Skenderbeu players celebrate after making it to the Europa League group stage for a second time. Photo: KF Skenderbeu[/caption]

TIRANA, Aug. 25 - Albania's Skenderbeu claimed a historic UEFA Europa League group stage qualification on Thursday night as they held Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb to a goalless draw in a play-off, making it thanks to an away goal.

Albania’s most successful club of the past decade suffered in the second half as they were down to 10 men for almost 20 minutes after African striker Nimaga was sent off with a second yellow card.

However, the Albanian club resisted pressure, avenging the Croatians with much more experience in European competition, to make it to the group stage of the Europa League for a second time, but this time directly after going through four qualifying stages.

Back in 2015, Skenderbeu automatically made it to the Europa League group stage after losing to Dinamo Zagreb 6-2 on aggregate in the Champions League play-off.

Skenderbeu's qualification came thanks to a priceless away goal by Kosovo midfielder Liridon Latifi in the first leg encounter when Skenderbeu were denied a win by an injury time equalizer.

The 23-year old Kosovo playmaker was hailed as a hero by Skenderbeu players and fans as he bid goodbye to Skenderbeu after almost three years to move to Hungarian top league side Puskas Academy.

Skenderbeu coach Ilir Daja dedicated the victory to all players, especially captain goalkeeper Orges Shehi, a 40-year veteran who has been decisive with his saves and even scored in a penalty shootout during the qualifying campaign.

"We played a very good first half against very tough opponents who are one of the Balkans' best teams. We did our best in the four qualifying stages and we really faced three very strong teams," Daja told reporters as celebrations kicked off in the packed Elbasan Arena stadium.

Dinamo Zagreb coach Mario Cvitanović also congratulated Skenderbeu as a courageous and tough team who deserved to qualify.

Skenderbeu will now learn its three group stage opponents on Friday afternoon after a draw is made in Monaco.

The Albanians could face big names such as AC Milan, Arsenal or Lyon in their six group stage matches scheduled from September to December.

Back in 2015, Skenderbeu finished bottom in Group H, but made history as the first Albanian club to make it to the group stage of a major European competition. The Albania champions named after national hero Skanderbeg managed to get only a home win against Portugal’s Sporting CP, but lost all fixtures against Russia’s Lokomotiv Moscow and Turkey's Besiktas.

Skenderbeu progressed to the 2017 UEFA Europa League play-offs as they eliminated Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in a penalty shootout. The ‘Snow Wolves’ earlier beat Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty and modest Andorran side Sant Julia in the first and second Europa League qualifying rounds.

Skenderbeu return to European competition after a one-year ban imposed by European football governing body, UEFA, on match-fixing allegations in the 2015-2016 Champions and Europa League campaigns.
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                    [post_content] => By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Aug. 18 - Albania's Skenderbeu are only one step away from repeating history in the UEFA Europa League after being held to a dramatic draw by Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb in the first-leg away fixture of the play-off tie.

Skenderbeu were really unlucky on Thursday night's encounter as they were initially denied a legitimate goal for an offside by Liridon Latifi before the Kosovo playmaker gave Skenderbeu the lead in the 37th minute.

When everything seemed to end in Skenderbeu's favour, the Croatians with much more experience in European competition, scored an injury-time equalizer after dominating the game’s second half.

Skenderbeu will now have to wait for the second-leg August 24 home encounter with Dinamo Zagreb to learn if they will repeat history by making a second appearance at the Europa League group stage.

The second-leg play-off is also a chance for Skenderbeu to avenge Dinamo Zagreb who denied them a historic Champions League debut in the 2015-2016 qualifying campaigns.

The Croatian side beat Skenderbeu 6-2 on aggregate in the 2015 Champions League play-off, but Skenderbeu were still able to automatically make it to the less prestigious Europa League group stage.

Skenderbeu coach Ilir Daja described the draw as a big step for the ‘Snow Wolves.’

"That was a great result for us, you will see another Skenderbeu in the second-leg qualifier in Elbasan, we expect huge support from fans," said Daja.

Dinamo Zagreb coach Mario Cvitanović said the Croatians "will go to Albania to win and do their best to achieve it."

Croatia's most successful club, Dinamo Zagreb beat Skenderbeu 4-1 at home before also wining 2-1 in Albania in the 2015 Champions League play-off.

Skenderbeu progressed to the UEFA Europa League play-offs as they eliminated Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in a penalty shootout. They earlier beat Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty and modest Andorran side Sant Julia in the first and second Europa League qualifying rounds.

Skenderbeu return to European competition after a one-year ban imposed by European football governing body, UEFA, on match-fixing allegations in the 2015-2016 Champions and Europa League campaigns.

Last June, Albania’s football association also stripped the ‘Snow Wolves’ of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The club have denied any wrongdoing.

Skenderbeu have been dominating Albanian football in the past decade which has recently become more competitive with minnows Kukes winning their first ever championship title in the past season and Partizani advised by former Juventus managing director Italian Lucciano Moggi and coach Mark Iuliano seeking a comeback in the upcoming season after more than two decades of trophyless seasons.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 8 - Tirana-based Partizani have hired an Italian coach and several new players, including Albanian international striker Edgar Çani in a bid to make a decades-long comeback as Albania Superliga champions after finishing second in the past two seasons.

Advised by former Juventus managing director Lucciano Moggi, Partizani president Gazmend Demi has hired former Juventus defender Mark Iuliano as the club’s new coach and transferred striker Edgar Çani from Pisa who were relegated from Serie B in the past season.

The changes come after Partizani were easily eliminated by Bulgaria’s Botev Plovdiv in the first Europa League round last month.

The former Juventus director who is suffering a lifetime ban from Italian football for his role in the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal, has also transferred Italian midfielder Giovanni la Camera, who has played for several Italian Serie B and third tier clubs.

Edgar Çani will team up in the Partizani attack with Xhevahir Sukaj, a powerful Albanian striker who returned to the Reds this season after a short unsuccessful spell in Malaysia.

Edgar Çani and Xhevahir Sukaj’s signings come after Italy-born Ghanaian striker Caleb Ekuban left Partizani to move to Leeds United in the English Football League Championship. Ekuban was Partizani’s top scorer in the past season with 17 goals.

"I came to win the championship title, I was convinced by the club's project. I didn't think twice. Moggi had a great impact on this transfer, I have also talked a lot with Iuliano and promise the fans the trophy and many goals,” Edgar Çani, the 28-year-old striker who grew up as a player in Italy told reporters at a press conference this week.

Lucciano Moggi, the former Italian transfer guru, says he targets turning Partizani into "a little Juventus."

"I am not an official with a say in Partizani's decision-making, but an advisor to President Demi. As such, I have advised the president to create a 'little Juventus' which means doing what I achieved with that club, with Torino or Napoli, the establishment of a youth basis because a team cannot only rely on purchases, but also sales," the 80-year-old has said in a TV interview.

Once the most successful Albanian club under communism, Partizani have won the national league 15 times, but have been trophyless since 1993.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133490" align="alignright" width="300"]Skenderbeu supporters Skenderbeu supporters[/caption]

TIRANA, Aug. 4 - Skenderbeu progressed to the UEFA Europa League play-offs on Thursday night as they eliminated Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in a penalty shootout after extra time finished 2-1, making it  3-3 on aggregate.

Skenderbeu, who lost the first leg away match 2-1, came from behind to score two second half goals with a penalty converted by midfielder Sabien Lilaj and a late extra-time winner by Sebino Plaku.

Goalkeeper Orges Shehi, the "Snow Wolves" captain, was the penalty shootout hero as he converted the opening penalty and saved Mlada's fourth spot kick, sealing Skenderbeu's progress from the third qualifying round.

Skenderbeu could now face Ajax, Turkey's Fenerbahçe, Bulgaria's Ludogorets, Belarusian Bate Borisov, Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb or Israel's Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the play off ties scheduled for August 17 to 24.

Skenderbeu has a chance to make history again by progressing to the group stage of the Europa League after their 2015-2016 debut.

Skenderbeu progressed to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League after beating Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty 3-1 on aggregate, remaining the sole Albanian club in European competition after all Kukes, Partizani and Tirana were disqualified in their first round campaigns. In the first qualifying round, Skenderbeu easily beat modest Andorran side Sant Julia 6-0 on aggregate.

Skenderbeu return to European competition after a one-year ban imposed by European football governing body, UEFA, on match-fixing allegations in the 2015-2016 Champions and Europa League campaigns.

Last June, Albania’s football association also stripped the ‘Snow Wolves’ of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The club have denied any wrongdoing.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 21 - Skenderbeu progressed to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League after beating Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty 3-1 on aggregate, remaining the sole Albanian club in European competition after all Kukes, Partizani and Tirana were disqualified in their first round campaigns.

Skenderbeu, who beat Kairat 2-0 in their second leg home fixture, will now face Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav in the third qualifying round of the Europa League.

The Korça-based club, who have dominated Albanian football in the past decade, need to beat the Czechs and pass another play-off round in order to make another Europa League group stage appearance.

In the first qualifying round, Skenderbeu easily beat modest Andorran side Sant Julia 6-0 on aggregate.

In this year’s UEFA Europa league campaign, Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club that was seeded in the draw thanks to their Europa League European competition in 2015-16 when they became the first-ever Albanian team to play in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League.

Skenderbeu return to European competition after a one-year ban imposed by European football governing body, UEFA, on match-fixing allegations in the 2015-2016 Champions and Europa League campaigns.

Last month, Albania's football association also stripped the ‘Snow Wolves’ of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The club have denied any wrongdoing.

Earlier this week, Albania’s debut champions Kukes were unlucky to progress to the next Champions League qualifying round, despite winning their home match. Kukes beat Moldova's Sheriff 2-1 in the second leg home match, but were disqualified because of the Moldovans’ away goal after losing 1-0 in the first leg.

Kukes, who won their first Superliga title this year, were unlucky as they missed a penalty kick and even hit the post in injury time to score a qualifying goal.

Partizani and Tirana were easily beaten in their first qualifying Europa League rounds by Bulgarian and Israeli sides.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133290" align="alignright" width="300"]pannuci 2 Christian Pannuci signs a contract in Tirana. Photo: Albanian Football Associatiion[/caption]

TIRANA, July 19 - Italian Christian Pannuci 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.

Speaking at a press conference in Tirana on Wednesday, the former 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender said he wanted to follow in De Biasi’s footsteps.

"De Biasi has done an extraordinary job. He has made history for Albania, but now we will start something new and I will try to do something important here," said Pannuci.

De Biasi led Albania for the past five and half years, becoming Albania’s most successful coach after managing to take the national side to a first ever appearance to a major competition such as the Euro 2016. He unexpected resigned last June following an impressive 3-0 away victory with Israel in a World Cup qualifier, overcoming a shameful five-game losing streak the national side had not experienced in more than a decade.

"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 Pannuci.

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. Pannuci’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. Pannuci 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 Pannuci.

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.

Albania’s Football Association President Armand Duka said he was confident Pannuci is the right manager for Albania.

"We made the best decision, we picked one of the world's greatest players who has huge experience as a player, but maybe modest in coaching," said Duka

"We have made a very good choice. For me, he is a man with a great will and desire. I am convinced that together we can make it to the Euro 2020,” he added.

The Albanian national side was also considering Italians Paolo Di Canio, Giancarlo Camolese, Filippo Inzaghi, Alberto Malesani, Valter Zenga and Dutch Clarence Seedorf for the post.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133271" align="alignright" width="300"]Christian Pannuci. Photo; Wikipedia  Christian Pannuci. Photo; Wikipedia[/caption]

TIRANA, July 18 - Italian Christian Pannuci is expected to take over as the new Albania coach, replacing compatriot Gianni De Biasi, who led the Albania national side for the past five and a half years.

Although not yet official, Italian and Albanian sports media have unveiled the 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender seems to have convinced the Albanian football association as a decent successor to De Biasi, Albania's most successful coach who managed to take the national side to a first ever appearance to a major competition such as the Euro 2016.

The 44-year old is expected to sign this week a two-and-a-half years contract with the national side, with the Euro 2020 qualification set as a key condition for a possible contract extension.

The Italian has little experience as a manager, but his young age and modest financial criteria seem to have led to a deal.

Pannuci’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. Pannuci also managed Serie B sides Livorno, Ternana in the past couple of years.

The Albanian national side was also considering Italians Paolo Di Canio, Giancarlo Camolese, Filippo Inzaghi and Dutch Clarence Seedorf for the post.

Italian Gianni De Biasi unexpectedly quit as Albania coach on June 14, only a day after he first announced he would be leaving Albania by next October at the end of the World Cup qualification campaign when his contract expired.

The decision came 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.

The away victory temporary places Albania third with 9 points, leading Israel on goal difference in a tough group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain who seem unrivalled in the top two finish.

The Albanian national side will play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing neighbouring Macedonia three days later in an away qualifier. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 13 - Albania's Armando Sadiku has moved to Legia Warsaw on a three-year contract with one of Poland's most successful clubs, abandoning Switzerland where he played for the past six years with several top flight clubs.

The transfer was completed this week for an undisclosed amount after Sadiku passed medical tests, becoming the first Albanian to play for Legia Wasaw, the club that has been dominating Polish football for the past five years.

The last Albanian international to play in Poland was Bekim Balaj, who played for Jagiellonia in the 2013-2014 season on loan from Sparta Prague, scoring seven goals. The 26-year-old striker currently plays for Akhmat Grozny in the Russian Premier League.

"I am happy I have signed with such a great club. This is a good step in my career. I hope we will qualify for the Champions League group stage," Sadiku has told the club's portal.

"I am ready to help the team, start training and do my best. I want to win every possible trophy, but I am not sure if this also includes the Champions League," joked Sadiku.

The 27-year old Albanian international striker had been recently playing for Lugano and Vaduz on loan from Zurich, being one of top scorers in the Swizz championship.

He had a wonderful second-half season with Lugano in the Swiss top league which he helped climb from the relegation zone to achieve a third-place and Europa League qualification.

Sadiku is expected to be a key reinforcement for Legia Warsaw who are playing in the Champions League qualification campaign.

Former Albanian international Besnik Hasi served as Legia Warsaw coach for a short spell last year.

A powerful striker, Sadiku has been one of the toughest points of the Albanian national side in the past couple of years, scoring some decisive goals that helped Albania secure a debut appearance in a major competition such as Euro 2016.

Sadiku was Albania's hero in last June's away World Cup qualifier with Israel, scoring a double from two long-range shots.

He has scored nine goals with the national side, including one in the first-ever European championship appearance against Romania at the Euro 2016 group stage.

Sadiku, who started his career in his hometown of Elbasan, central Albania, had been playing in Switzerland since 2011.
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 30 - Several Albanian internationals moved to new clubs in the summer transfer window as the 2017-2018 season has already kicked off in major European leagues.

Striker Sokol Cikalleshi, who has been playing in Turkey’s top flight division for the past three years scoring 13 goals, has signed a new 3-year contract with Osmanlispor after spending half of the previous season with Akhisar on loan from Basaksehir. The new contract negotiations also led to his last-minute disciplinary dismissal from the 24-men squad coach Christian Pannuci called up for Albania’s next two World Cup qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Macedonia in early September.

“I respect the coach's decision because at the end of the day, he has his own rules. It was just a misunderstanding," Cikalleshi said after being left out of the squad due to not making it in time.

The 27-year-old striker was transferred for €2 million to Osmanlıspor, an Ankara-based club with not much history in the top Turkish league. He will reportedly earn €850,000 a season, apparently making him the second best paid Albanian internationals after Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj.

A product of the Albanian championship where he played several years until 2014, Cikalleshi has been playing in Turkey since 2015 following a brief spell in Croatia with Split.

Other important transfers for the new season include Ledian Memushaj’s move from demoted Pescara which he captained from 2016 to Serie A newly promoted Benevento.

Albania's promising forward Rey Manaj was surprisingly transferred to Granada in Spain's second division on loan from Inter Milan, but with a sale option. The forward made a lackluster performance on loan to Pescara and Pisa in the previous season. Having made only three appearances with the national side, Manaj still has to earn a place.

Earlier this summer, Armando Sadiku moved to Legia Warsaw on a three-year contract with one of Poland’s most successful clubs, leaving Switzerland where he played for the past six years with several top flight clubs. The national side's key striker has already scored twice in the top Polish league.

Midfielder Liridon Latifi who helped Skenderbeu earn a second historic Europa league qualification has also left Albania's most successful club of the past decade, after making history in European competitions.

The 23-year old Kosovo-born playmaker and Albanian international was hailed as a hero by Skenderbeu players and fans as he bid goodbye to Skenderbeu after almost three years to move to Hungarian top league side Puskas Academy.

Kosovo-born Albanian international Ermir Lenjani has also moved to Switzerland's Sion recently following two unsuccessful seasons with Rennes and Nantes in France.
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