Albania braces for do-or-die qualifier with Israel

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 2, 2016 10:57

Albania braces for do-or-die qualifier with Israel

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  • "We face a very tough World Cup qualifiers group stage as the Italians saw for themselves what Spain is able to do. I believe Italy is a candidate for a second spot while Albania and Israel will fight for a third place," says coach De Biasi

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TIRANA, Nov. 2 – Albania will face a key test against Israel on Nov. 12 that could prove decisive for its World Cup qualifiers bid following an unimpressive start in the first three fixtures.

Albania desperately have to win the home match against Israel to keep their direct qualification or play-off hopes alive. Any other result could give a severe blow to Albania’s qualification campaign and put the national side in the race for a third spot which earns neither a direct qualification nor a play-off opportunity.

With seven other games to go, Albania now rank third on Group G of the World Cup qualifiers with six points, level with Israel, trailing group leaders Spain and Italy by one point.

Coach Gianni 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 and Israel are facing each other for the first time. Israel climbed 19 spots to rank 79th in the October FIFA ranking following victories with Macedonia and Liechtenstein in the last two World Cup qualifier and losing to Italy in its opening home qualifier last September.

Meanwhile, Albania lost seven spots to rank 47th among 205 countries after a 2-0 home defeat with Spain in its last lackluster qualifier.

Albania’s Italian coach Gianni De Biasi admits the World Cup qualifiers are almost a mission impossible for Albania who against all odds managed to secure a historic first ever direct qualification in the last Euro qualifiers in tough group stage featuring now European champions Portugal, Denmark and Serbia.

“We face a very tough World Cup qualifiers group stage as the Italians saw for themselves what Spain is able to do. I believe Italy is a candidate for a second spot while Albania and Israel will fight for a third place,” said De Biasi.

“Spain has players coming from another planet compared to us while for Italy this planet is somehow closer,” adds De Biasi who has rated Spain as group favorites for a direct qualification.

The Italian who has led Albania for the past five years says the national side now faces the threat of receiving a blow to its impressive progress until the Euro debut.

“We achieved our peak with the participation in the European championship and I wish we don’t embark on a downward trend. We now face the greatest risk of ruining what we achieved with this group of players,” De Biasi has told Italian media.

Goalkeeper Etrit Berisha who has been a regular starter with Atalanta this season in Italy’s Serie A is optimistic Albania still stands chances for a second spot which would enable the national side a historic play-off to qualify for Russia 2018 in its tough group featuring former world champions Italy and Spain.

“This is a decisive match [Israel] and we have to do our best. I think we stand good chances for a second spot and everything depends on this march,” said Berisha, who has proved decisive for Atalanta since being transferred on loan from Lazio last September.

“I have watched that even other Albanian national side players are having a good time with their clubs and that’s why the November fixture will find us in our best shape and I hope we’ll win that game,” he added.

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

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 2, 2016 10:57