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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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Tirana makes it to Europe’s 2018 top 10 hotspots

Tirana makes it to Europe’s 2018 top 10 hotspots

TIRANA, May 23 – Albania has made it to the top ten European hotspots for 2018 in Lonely Planet’s travel guide on a list topped by Italy and Spain but also featuring Kosovo, the continent’s youngest country, as a surprise

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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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Let the Southern games begin

Let the Southern games begin

By Sidonja Manushi Vuno might be nothing but a small dot in the South of Albania’s comparatively unknown geographical map, but anyone who’s set foot there will guarantee this: few other places can provide its salt-smelling summer air, its hanging

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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 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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Tirana secure Superliga promotion following embarrassing first-ever relegation

Tirana secure Superliga promotion following embarrassing first-ever relegation

TIRANA, April 16 – Tirana have mathematically secured their Albanian Superliga promotion following an embarrassing first-ever relegation in their almost century-long history in the top flight of the Albanian football as the country’s historically most successful club. The promotion came

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Albania’s Skenderbeu win first legal battle at Court of Arbitration for Sport

Albania’s Skenderbeu win first legal battle at Court of Arbitration for Sport

TIRANA, April 13 – Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) says it has 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

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Albania’s Napoli fullback in fresh talks to revise contract, release clause

Albania’s Napoli fullback in fresh talks to revise contract, release clause

TIRANA, April 2 – Albania’s Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj is reportedly holding fresh talks with Italian Serie A side Napoli who seem willing to extend his contract and increase his release clause as the 24-year-old Albania international has become the

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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 has made it to the top ten European hotspots for 2018 in Lonely Planet’s travel guide on a list topped by Italy and Spain but also featuring Kosovo, the continent’s youngest country, as a surprise destination to discover.

Albania is represented in the ranking with Tirana, the country’s capital which is described as a vigorous metropolis that has undergone transformation and that offers much to visitors.

“One would be hard-pressed to imagine a better-placed travel hub than Tirana, which sits between the Adriatic Coast and the Albanian Alps. But this is no gateway town; rather, it’s a vigorous metropolis that has undergone a transformation thanks to its former mayor (now Albania’s prime minister), who had drab buildings painted in primary colours, encouraged commuters to eschew their cars for bikes, and placed greater emphasis on the city’s green spaces. The result is compelling,” says Lonely Planet in its Tirana description.

Back in 2011 when Albania was branding its tourism industry as ‘Europe’s last secret’ and a “New Mediterranean love,” the popular travel guide ranked long-isolated Albania under communism as the number one global destination to visit.

“A typical day might include catching a cable car from the centre to the city’s peak, Mount Dajti, for panoramic views, lingering over a slow-food experience at a local bistro, and then a night-time tour of the cocktail lounges and designer boutiques of the fashionable Blloku neighbourhood, once the territory of corrupt communist bosses,” Lonely Planet says about Tirana.

Tirana’s deputy Mayor Arbjan Mazniku says Lonely Planet’s ranking of Tirana among Europe’s top 10 destination is good news, but not something unexpected as more and more tourists have been visiting capital city in the past few years.

“Tirana will showcase a series of events this summer, at least two to three each week. Of course, being landlocked, Tirana is not the country's main destination, but yet is the starting point to many international tourists," Mazniku told a local TV this week.

Two famous singers of Albanian roots will perform at Tirana’s reconstructed Skanderbeg central square in early June.

Kosovo-born, UK-based R&B singer Rita Ora will be performing on June 3. The Kosovo-Albanian singer also previously performed in Tirana in 2012 when Albanian celebrated its 100th independence anniversary and was also one of the Albanian performers at a concert at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City in Sept. 2016 when the world famous nun of Albanian origin was declared a Saint.

Rita Ora's concert will be preceded by another emerging Albanian talent, Italy-based singer-songwriter Ermal Meta who in 2018 won Italy's Sanremo music festival and successfully represented Italy at the Eurovision song contest to finish fifth.

Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj has earlier invited beach holidaymakers to spend evenings in the company of  Tirana events.

Tirana is a 400-year-old town that has been the country's capital city since 1920 when its population was at only more than a dozen thousand compared to a present day 800,000.

Tirana was established in 1614 by Sulejman Pasha from the village of Mullet who first build a mosque, a bakery and a Turkish sauna. However, the capital outskirts boast settlements and archeological heritage dating back to ancient times.

In addition to the communist legacy for more almost five decades until the early 1990s, Tirana and many Albanian cities also owe much to Italian 20th century architecture.

Italian architects designed major public buildings and squares in Albania from 1925 to 1943. In Tirana, Italian planners and architects designed the main square named after the national hero Skanderbeg, the central boulevard, the ministry buildings, the national bank and the town hall.

The communist regime has also left its mark with several Socialist Realism and former Soviet Union style buildings.

Last year, Tirana's landmark Skanderbeg square was given a facelift that completely transformed the most important public space linked to a number of historical events and manifestations from King Zog’s reign until WWII, to the communist takeover and the early 1990s protests for democratic changes.

Tirana is also becoming an emerging adventure travel destination with sites such as Mount Dajti, the Pellumbus Cave, the Erzen and Tujan Canyons, outside the capital attracting more and more adventure travelers.
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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] => By Sidonja Manushi

[caption id="attachment_136930" align="alignright" width="300"]DSCN9344 Tents under olive trees[/caption]

Vuno might be nothing but a small dot in the South of Albania’s comparatively unknown geographical map, but anyone who’s set foot there will guarantee this: few other places can provide its salt-smelling summer air, its hanging olive tree shades, its majestic view of the Ionian Sea and its free tour back to a time when life was simpler and purer. 

This year, the South Outdoor Festival offered its crowd all that, and then some more. 

Looking to promote the country’s most day-dreamy region, SOF has been going through the southern snaky roads that cut through titanous mountains and lead to virgin, utopic beaches, jumping from one remote location to the other in the past couple of years to mark the start of adventure season. 

And so, on April 27, as the temperatures in the country bordered 30 degrees and Tirana started turning into a stove, nature lovers, party goers, adventure junkies and change seekers found Vuno waiting for them, marble tiles clean and shiny as ever, silence bearing nature and the sea majestically looking from afar, calling on life.

The magic happens before, way before one even reaches Vuno, sitting for years in a mountain ridge between Himara and Dhermi. Right after the Llogara road reaches the top of the Ceraunia Mountains, leaving way to the Ionian Sea to expend in the palm of one’s hand, the feeling of a choice well-made starts settling in. 

[caption id="attachment_136928" align="alignright" width="224"]unnamed Jal Bay[/caption]

Llogara’s panoramic view became one of SOF’s hottest spots of activities during this last weekend of April, seeing off people who, stripped in front of  professional flyers and underneath colorful gigantic clothes, paraglided between sky and sea-blue to what looks like an infinity without horizon.

Respecting the increasing need to return to traditionalism and our roots, something Vuno and other close-by villages offer naturally, SOF made sure to promote its unique architecture, cultural heritage, history and tradition by gathering locals to exhibit their culinary, artisanal and even cultural products in the same field close to Saint Spyridon Church where hundreds of participants from around Albania and the world were camping from Friday to Sunday. 

The three evenings that stretched into the night, but that everyone wished would last longer, were inaugurated by the iso-polyphonic sounds of the South, which UNESCO has declared a national cultural heritage. Next to the open-air food stands and the Vuno homemade jam markets, a group of amateur iso-polyphonic group of local men were giving their own show, which attracted no less than twenty foreigners filming them in amusement. 

“They’ve just began. It will take them a while until they catch a breath,” a local woman told a number of girls wondering when the men would get tired.

The children were another group which, like the singing men, didn’t get tired from the outdoor events and workshops offered for free in the festival grounds, the sports games, like archery, volleyball, American football, painting and pottery; they would be seen running around until the setting of the sun, passing through the cushions laid in front of the outdoor cinema screen, and among the people strolling, chatting and dancing in front of the stage. 

During the day, the SOF field and surrounding camping space completely came under the sun’s attention, chasing almost everyone away in nearby Jal Bay, which still stands in the populated end of the south’s beaches, in Gjipe Bay, the only-lately explored location that looks like the eyelid of the mountains that open up to it, or Himara and Dhermi, now popular, but always favorite. 

Each of these locations offered jeep safari, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, canyoning, free ride racing, kayaking and stand-up paddling under the monitoring of professionals, the cheap prices of Albania’s up-and-coming tourism and the raw, remote setting of the Albanian riviera. 

[caption id="attachment_136933" align="alignleft" width="300"]IMG_0144 (1) Vuno in the distance[/caption]

The cultural Himara Castle and Vuno tours, as well as the olive-oil tasting tour could not be absent for those looking to experience the more easy-going side of what the region has to offer.  

In turn, all the heat, physical effort and adrenaline people released during the day was rendered worthy when the sun would start setting in the distance, on top of vast fields of olive trees plantations, and the fireflies and fresh evening air would accompany a cold cup of beer and live music. 

With an end-party at the Gjipe Bay -  the surrounding rocks of which served as climbing spots for a number of people the same morning - that had some postponing the weekend with one more lazy day in the idyllic south, the German cooperation and Ministries of culture, tourism and environment cut the inauguration rope for a summer full of light, music and life. 
                    [post_title] => Let the Southern games begin
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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.
                    [post_title] => Albania hands two-year ban to lifters over repeated doping cases
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                    [post_date] => 2018-04-18 17:25:15
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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_date] => 2018-04-17 13:05:34
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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] => 2018-04-16 12:40:46
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 16 – Tirana have mathematically secured their Albanian Superliga promotion following an embarrassing first-ever relegation in their almost century-long history in the top flight of the Albanian football as the country's historically most successful club.

The promotion came following a 3-2 home victory against Pogradeci last weekend, giving Tirana a 13-point lead over second-placed Bylis with three final play-off games to go in Group B which Tirana comfortably lead throughout the season.

"I have never been in more difficulty than in this season. I am telling this only now that this chapter was closed. I thank the guys who sacrificed and did not betray the club in its most difficult moments. They did their best and brought back Tirana to where it deserves," said Tirana president Refik Halili, a traditional sponsor of Tirana whom the key “Tirona Fanatics” supporters blame for the club’s relegation and mismanagement.

Halili owns the majority 66 percent stake in Tirana, with the remaining minority stake possessed by the Municipality of Tirana.

Tirana captain Erando Karabeci who has been playing as a midfielder with the club since 2009 when Tirana last won the Albanian Superliga said playing in the First Division had been a nightmare the club finally overcame and wishes Tirana’s Brazilian coach extends his stay to help the club next season.

The future of the Brazilian coach Ze Maria at Tirana is in question following a full season in Tirana’s lead. Failure to appear at a press conference and irritation even after Tirana secured its much-awaited return to the top flight hint the Brazilian has not been offered a contract extension.

 

A former Brazilian international who spent most of his career as a right back with Italian clubs until the mid-2000s, Ze Maria has been in charge of Tirana since mid-2017 facing the tough task of making it to the Albanian Superliga and bringing back irritated fans to the stadium.

Financial problems and a boycott by its “Tirana Fanatics” marred Tirana’s performance in the last 2016-2017 Superliga season following a good start.

Tirana have claimed the Albanian Superliga a record 24 times and won the Albania Cup 16 times, but have been poorly performing in the past decade.
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                    [post_date] => 2018-04-13 12:33:13
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, April 13 – Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) says it has 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.

The decision by the Ethics Committee of Albania’s Football Association was made in mid-2017 one year after CAS upheld a UEFA decision to ban Skenderbeu for the 2016-2017 UEFA Champions League campaign after results of more than 50 of Skenderbeu's local and international matches were found to have been manipulated for betting purposes.

Albania’s football association stripped Skenderbeu of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five, handed the club a 2 million lek (€15,000) fine and deducted 12 points from their 2016-2017 Superliga campaign with no effect for their third-place and Europa League participation in the 2017-2018 season when they made it to group stage for a second time.

The decision comes as a relief for Skenderbeu who last month 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 CAS decides otherwise in the expected appeal that Albania’s best club of the past decade is expected to file.

The highest tribunal for the resolution of sports-related disputes says the Albanian football association lacked a proper legal basis for imposing the sanctions at a local level, making the consultation of UEFA’s Betting Fraud Detection System unnecessary.

"The CAS Panel emphasized that the present decision was not based on the lack of reliability of the evidence in the match-fixing cases.  To the contrary, the CAS Panel found that the reports established by the UEFA Betting Fraud Detection System (BFDS) were a valuable tool in the detection and subsequent sanctioning of match-fixing violations,” says the CAS decision.

“However, in the present matter, the Panel did not even need to examine the BFDS reports in detail, in the absence of any proper legal basis in the Albanian Football Association regulations to impose sanctions at the national level,” it adds.

The decision hints the legal battle Skenderbeu will fight over UEFA’s 10-year ban will be tough as Skenderbeu’s punishment is based on UEFA’s betting fraud detection system in identifying abnormal betting patterns on matches played by the Albanian club at European and domestic levels

Skenderbeu's President described Ardian Takaj said justice had been made for a hard-earned title and he expects the same justice over the recent UEFA punishment.

"There has been a frontal attack against us, even by opponents in Albania. We are totally convinced of our innocence," Takaj told reporters following Friday's CAS decision.

Skenderbeu’s punishment is the harshest the European football governing body has ever handed to any club and chances are that the Court of Arbitration for Sport could in the best-case scenario only reduce Skenderbeu’s 10-year ban.

Back in 2010, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a UEFA eight-year Europe-wide ban on Macedonian club FC Pobeda for match-fixing over a single 2004 Champions League tie with an Armenian club.

The Korça-based team are the only Albanian club to have made it to the UEFA Europa League group stage, with two appearances in the past three years and have claimed six Superliga titles since 2011.

Skenderbeu are favorites to win this year’s domestic Superliga title with a comfortable 12-point lead over second placed Kukes this season, but winning the championship will not take them to Champions League or Europa League qualifying campaigns in case CAS upholds the decision.

A 10-year ban and a €1 million fine could give a severe blow to Skenderbeu’s future.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_136585" align="alignright" width="300"]Elseid Hysaj Elseid Hysaj[/caption]

TIRANA, April 2 – Albania’s Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj is reportedly holding fresh talks with Italian Serie A side Napoli who seem willing to extend his contract and increase his release clause as the 24-year-old Albania international has become the target of top English Premier League clubs.

Italian media say Napoli are mulling offering the Albanian fullback, regarded as one of the world’s best defenders, a two-year contract extension until 2023 and raise his release clause from a current €50 million to €80 million amid reports that Manchester United and Arsenal are willing to pay for his transfer.

Hysaj has been playing Napoli since 2015 when he moved from Empoli for a mere €5 million fee, turning into a regular starter and helping Napoli rival for a long-awaited Serie A title.

With seven games remaining, Napoli rank second in the Serie A for this season, trailing leaders Juventus by only four points and with a comfortable 16-point lead over third and fourth-placed Lazio and Roma.

Albania’s most sought-after player has been capped 37 times for the national side since his 2013 debut with a key contribution to Albania’s first-ever appearance in a major international tournament such as the Euro 2016.

He recently made it to the top 500 players on the UK's World Soccer" magazine, joining former Albania internationals Lorik Cana and Shkelzen Gashi as well as current Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka whose Arsenal playmaker brother plays for Switzerland.  In the opening group stage match at the Euro 2016 in France, the Xhakas they became the first two brothers to face each other for different national sides in a European competition.

“Elseid Hysaj is an attacking right-back who helped Albania qualify for Euro 2016 and is now an important figure in Napoli's Serie A," says the Magazine in its April issue.

Hysaj grew up as a player in Italy where he moved when he was 14.

Several other Albania internationals play in Italy’s Serie A including Lazio and Atalanta goalkeepers Thomas Strakosha and Etrit Berisha.
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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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