Spain-born former Barcelona defender could join Albania

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 24, 2016 15:54

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  • "My agent has been contacting the Albanian Football Association for a solution. I think I have proved my qualities in my career and want to do the same with the national team," says Metz defender Ivan Balliu

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balliuTIRANA, Oct. 24 – Spain-born defender of Albanian origin Ivan Balliu Campeny could be a perfect alternative for Albania’s struggling defence in their World Cup qualifiers after the departure of captain Lorik Cana from international football following Albania’s impressive first-ever participation at a major tournament such as France 2016.

Born to an Albanian father and a Spanish mother, the 24-year-old defender who grew up as a professional player from the Barcelona youth academy and currently plays Mets at the top French league could soon join Albania’s national side if talks with Albania’s football association and coach De Biasi conclude successfully.

“My agent has been contacting the Albanian Football Association for a solution. I think I have proved my qualities in my career and want to do the same with the national team,” Balliu has told German portal.

Balliu, who was called up for Spain’s U16 and U17 and played Barcelona B and Portugal’s Arouca before joining Metz in 2015, seems willing to join Albania although he doesn’t know much about his roots.

“I don’t know a lot. I only know that my predecessors came to Spain. My father tried to trace his family roots, but I haven’t got much information,” the 24-year-old full back says.

Balliu thinks Albania has a promising team although the national side lost 2-0 to the Spaniards in their latest World Cup qualifier earlier this month in one of their worst performances in recent years.

“I watched the match against Spain. I think Albania have a good team and are dangerous in the counterattack. I didn’t support any team. I just enjoyed the game,” he says.

The Catalonia-born player also nostalgically remembers his years with Barcelona’s youth academy and Barcelona B from 2005 to 2013

“It was a great period. I started there when I was 12 and played until 21. I regularly played with Barcelona B and was called up twice by the top team under Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova’s guide. I am so grateful to Guradiola [former Barcelona and current Manchester City coach] who gave me the opportunity to prove myself. He is a great manager who always advised me when something went wrong,” he adds.

There has been no reaction by the football association or coach De Biasi who is always on the hunt for emerging talents that could join the national side at a time when players of Kosovo origin can now pick Kosovo after the neighboring ethnic Albanian country that declared independence from Serbia in 2008 is making its debut at the World Cup qualifiers following its FIFA and UEFA membership. Several former Albanian internationals including talented 20-year-old midfielder Milot Rashica who plays Dutch club Vitesse have opted for Kosovo.

Coach De Biasi, who has been in charge of Albania since 2011 and managed to take the national side to a historic first-ever appearance at a European championship, has recently come under fire following Albania’s poor performance with group favorites Spain, a lucky late winner at home with Macedonia and a 2-0 victory against modest Liechtenstein in the first three group qualifiers.

Albania now rank third on Group G of the Euro qualifiers with six points, level with Israel, trailing group leaders Spain and Italy by one point.

The national side will now have to focus on its next Nov. 12 qualifier at home with Israel who is likely Albania’s direct rival for a third spot in the group which earns neither a direct qualification nor a play-off opportunity.

The Red & Blacks will travel to Italy on March 14, 2017 to conclude the first round of group matches.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 24, 2016 15:54