Albania host Armenia in decisive Euro 2016 qualifier

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 23, 2015 15:12

Albania host Armenia in decisive Euro 2016 qualifier

By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, March 23 – Albania will play home to Armenia this weekend in a decisive match for their Euro 2016 qualifying hopes.

Albania currently rank third on Group I with 4 points, but one game in hand over group leaders Denmark, after a sensational win away to Portugal last September and a draw at home to favourites Denmark a month later. A drone incident and a fight over national symbols in the qualifier with Serbia last October punished both teams with Albania being handed a 3-0 loss and Serbia deducted 3 points. Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport is currently examining appeals by both Albania and Serbia after the UEFA appeals body confirmed the earlier decision of the UEFA control, ethics and disciplinary body.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Italian coach Gianni De Biasi described the March 29 qualifier against Armenia as a decisive match and his most important since he took over as Albania manager in late 2011.

“We will play to win. We are not under pressure, but we should not be euphoric. To me, this is the most important match as Albania’s coach. It is a decisive match for us,” De Biasi told reporters.

Armenia have collected only one point in a home draw against Serbia in their first three qualifiers and rank bottom of Group I, level on points with Serbia, but have high class players such as midfielders Mkhitaryan who plays for Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga.

Albania has played Armenia three times previously but the records are all even with Albania having all won, drawn and lost.

The sides’ only competitive meetings came in 1998 World Cup qualifiers when they drew 1-1 in Tirana before Armenia won the return fixture 3-0 in Yerevan.

More recently, they came together for a friendly in Tirana in August 2013, with Albania – under current coach Giovanni de Biasi – prevailing 2-0, Valdet Rama and Ergys Kaçe the scorers, says UEFA in the match background.

The new match will be played at the newly reconstructed Elbasan Arena stadium in the central town of Elbasan on Sunday, March 29 at 18.00.

Football experts say Albania, whose players play in prestigious leagues including Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, stands a real chance to qualify for the France Euro 2016 after historically finishing bottom and second from bottom in the Euro and World Cup qualifying stages.

Nine group winners, the nine group runners-up and the best third-placed side qualify directly for the final tournament of the Euro 2016. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers.

Albania’s next qualifier will be away to Denmark in September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 23, 2015 15:12