Albania-Israel, a decisive qualifier for a third spot, play-off hopes

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 11, 2016 09:31

Albania-Israel, a decisive qualifier for a third spot, play-off hopes

Story Highlights

  • "Israel are a tough team, maybe tougher than us. They have quality and physical strength. Whoever thinks of football unprofessionally sees this as an easy match, but it's not that way," says coach De Biasi

Related Articles

By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Nov. 10 – Albania will take on Israel this weekend in a qualifier that is expected to be key for its World Cup qualifying bid as victory is desperately needed to secure a third spot and keep alive hopes for a second place play-off opportunity in a tough group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain.

Albania’s Italian coach Gianni De Biasi has described Israel whom Albania play at home on Saturday Nov. 12 as a very tough fixture. The qualifier dubbed as a do-or-die for Albania has been moved from Shkodra’s newly reconstructed “Loro Borici” to the “Elbasan Arena” stadium on security grounds.

“Israel are a tough team, maybe tougher than us. They have quality and physical strength. Whoever thinks of football unprofessionally sees this as an easy match, but it’s not that way,” De Biasi has said.

“We will try to win but it will not be easy as the opponents have some very good players, including some from the local Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva who beat Inter Milan at home at the Europa League,” he added.

The coach who led Albania to a first ever major tournament such as Euro 2016 is optimistic Albania still have some chances to make it to the Russia 2018 World Cup after the defeat with Spain.

“We all want to make it to Russia but we have to be contained and realistic. If we do our best anytime in order to become a full-strength group, then we can achieve something,” says De Biasi.

“We worked wonders with our qualification to France, something nobody believed and we are hopeful again, otherwise I wouldn’t have continued to train this team,” he added.

While Armando Sadiku will be missing as he recovers from surgery, Bekim Balaj and Azdren Llullaku, the top scorers in the Russian and Romanian top leagues, are expected to lead Albania’s attack.

Several Serie A and German Bundesliga players will also be available for De Biasi.

Israeli coach Elisha Levy who has made 10 changes to the squad that beat Macedonia and Liechtenstein last month says the blue and whites will do their utmost to beat Albania.

“Our team-play was so successful in the past couple of matches as we beat Liechtenstein and Macedonia. There were also negative aspects in these encounters, but we did our best after careful analysis,” the Israeli coach told a press conference in Albania.

“We are a team that can beat anybody and can be beaten by everybody. We respect Albania a lot, but will do our best to get a win,” he has said.

The Jerusalem Post writes Israel have been far from impressive in their World Cup qualifying campaign and “were fortunate to beat one of the weakest European sides in Lichtenstein in its most recent match, avoiding what would have been one of the most humbling results in its history.”

“Israel also needed a 95th-minute penalty save from goalkeeper Dudu Goresh to defeat Macedonia in Skopje,” it writes.

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.

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.

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

Differently from the Euro qualifiers where the top two group teams qualified directly and the third-placed teams were given a play-off chance, the road to Russia World Cup for European national sides is much tougher with only the nine group winners directly qualifying and the 8 best group runners-up contesting in a play-off round.

Last June, Albania ended their historic debut in a major football tournament in a dramatic disqualification filled with suspense after the national side was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage of the Euro 2016 as one of the four best third-placed teams. Albania, who collected three points in their group stage fixtures following a victory with Romania and losses against hosts France and Switzerland, were punished by their -2 goal difference.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 11, 2016 09:31