Skenderbeu to face Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in Champions League play-off

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 13, 2015 10:21

Story Highlights

  • Skenderbeu was lucky again to be drawn against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League play-offs as the Croatian champions are facing a tough start in their championship and the club's reputation has been marred by arrest of its two bosses on suspicion of tax evasion and bribery

Related Articles

skendTIRANA, Aug. 13 – Albania’s Skenderbeu will face Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in its historic Champions League play-off as the first Albanian team to have made it to this stage of Europe’s most prestigious football competition for clubs.

The two sides are meeting for the first time in European competition and it is also Skenderbeu’s first encounter with Croatia’s most successful club.

“Skënderbeu are through to their first play-off and are sure to make Albanian history, since they will become the first Albanian club to appear in a major UEFA club competition group stage regardless of the outcome against Dinamo,” wrote UEFA, Europe’s football governing body, on its website.

Skenderbeu, who have been unbeaten in seven European home games, will host Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday evening, August 19, at the Elbasan Arena stadium in the first leg of the Champions League play-offs.

The five-time Albanian consecutive champions lost the Albanian Supercup against Laçi on penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw on Wednesday night but Albanian coach Mirel Josa is optimistic of a historic qualification for the southeastern Albanian club of Korça.

“I was in general satisfied with the team. We made some changes and this not because we underestimated Laçi but because we were thinking of Dinamo Zagreb all the time. I had no strategy in misleading Dinamo with the performance because they have also seen us in previous matches,” Josa told reporters.

Skenderbeu was lucky again to be drawn against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League play-offs as the Croatian champions are facing a tough start in their championship and the club’s reputation has been marred by arrest of its two bosses on suspicion of tax evasion and bribery.

Both clubs feature Albanian and Croatian players.

Skënderbeu’s Croatian defender Marko Radas came through the Dinamo academy yet never made a professional appearance for the club.

Several other Skënderbeu players have Croatian league experience including Sabien Lilaj, Arbër Abilaliaj and Bulgarian forward Ventsislav Hristov.

Midfielder Lilaj played alongside Dinamo’s Domagoj Antolić and Josip Pivarić at Lokomotiva.

Dinamo boast Albanian talent in the form of 18-year-old midfielder Endri Çekiçi, an Albanian Under-21 international. His father, Ylli Çekiçi, is a former Skënderbeu player.

Albanian-Macedonian Dinamo midfielder Arijan Ademi was born in Croatia and plays international football for Macedonia.

Skenderbeu became the first Albanian club to qualify for the Champions League play-offs after beating Moldova’s Milsami 4-0 on aggregate in the competition’s third qualifying round.

The club has already made history in European football as they have already automatically qualified for the less prestigious Europa League group stage even if they fail to qualify in the Champions League play-offs.

Much of the club’s European success is also dedicated to striker Hamdi Salihi who has joined the club only recently but proved decisive in the club’s success with his goals. The striker who has played in Austria, U.S., China and Israel is now the competition’s top scorer on five.

Skenderbeu’s European dream has also been lucky as it previously beat Northern Ireland’s Crusaders, a semi-professional club and was drawn against Moldova’s Milsami in the third round.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 13, 2015 10:21