Albania to face World Cup winners Italy, Spain in 2018 qualifiers

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 27, 2015 10:14

GTIRANA, July 27 – Albania will face a tough race in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers after being drawn against four-time World Cup winners Italy and 2010 winners Spain in Group G.

Albania will play its first match at home to neighboring Macedonia on September 5, 2016 before travelling to Liechtenstein on October 6, hosting Spain on October 9.

The Red & Blacks will play at home to Israel on November 12 and travel to Italy on March 14 2017 in the first round of group matches.

Albania’s coach Gianni de Biasi has described the draw as very difficult for Albania, which although against all odds, will fight to the end.

“In our group, we will be facing teams which have won the World Cup in the past few tournaments and it will be very difficult, but a match cannot be lost without being played,” said De Biasi.

The Italian coach has described the match against Italy, the first official match between the two neighboring countries, as a “local derby” due to thousands of Italy fans in Albania.

“Albania will have to take their chances. It is curious that many Albanians support Italy. Therefore it’ll be like a local derby for us,” De Biasi told Football Italia portal.

“Albania have never qualified for the finals of any FIFA tournament. In finishing one place off the bottom in their group in the South Africa 2010 preliminaries, they held Portugal, Sweden and Denmark to notable draws. Though they finished in the same position in the qualifiers for Brazil 2014, the Albanians showed further signs of improvement by picking up three wins,” says FIFA about Albania’s qualification history.

The nine group winners advance directly to the final World Cup tournament and the eight runners-up proceed to play offs to decide the remaining four European berths.

Meanwhile, Albania’s Euro 2016 qualification dream is closer than ever as they climbed to 10 points with one game in hand after being awarded a 3-0 win away to Serbia by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport after last October’s abandoned qualifier.

With one game in hand, Albania now see themselves rank third in Group I with 10 points, level on points with Denmark which holds an advantage only thanks to a goal away to Albania in last October’s 1-1 qualifier.

The top two group teams and the best third-placed side qualify directly for the final tournament of the Euro 2016.

Albania climbed 15 spots to 36th in the July FIFA ranking, which is a historic high for the country’s national side since 1946 when it made its international debut with a friendly against then-Yugoslavia.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 27, 2015 10:14