Albania to play Bosnia friendly after bidding adieu to World Cup qualifying bid

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 27, 2017 14:07

Albania to play Bosnia friendly after bidding adieu to World Cup qualifying bid

TIRANA, March 27 – Albania will play a home friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday evening after bidding adieu to its World Cup qualifying bid with a third straight loss against Italy.

The home test against one of the toughest Balkan sides is also seen as key for Gianni De Biasi and his future as Albania’s coach after having led the national side for the past five years and managing to take it to a first ever major tournament such as Euro 2016.

Albania played well in last Friday’s qualifier with Italy but was punished by an early penalty for a needless foul and squandered several scoring opportunities before it conceded its second knockout goal. To make matters worse, the national side now faces the threat of a huge fine by the world football’s governing body, FIFA, and play one or two matches behind closed doors after the Italy qualifier was suspended for several minutes as a group of Albanian fans threw flares on the pitch.

The Italy qualifier was seen as the last chance for Albania to remain in race for a top two finish and a possible play-off opportunity for Russia 2018, although mathematically Albania can still make it if they win all five remaining games.

Having played all five first round matches, Albania now see themselves rank fourth with only six points, trailing leaders Spain and Italy by seven points and lagging behind three points third-placed Israel, who now remain Albania’s sole rival in their fight for a third place in group G of the World Cup qualifiers.

“Of course I feel bad because we lost to Italy and now our qualifying chances are zero,” De Biasi told a Swiss newspaper.

“I think we played a tactically good game, the team performed well and surprised the opponents from the start. We made an individual mistake, and in my opinion, the referee quite generously awarded a penalty kick and this is when the match changed,” De Biasi told a press conference upon arriving in Durres last weekend as Albania prepares for the Bosnia friendly.

The Italy encounter also produced some clashes within the national side with Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka announcing he will no longer join the national side as long as De Biasi is in charge. A regular starter in the past few years, the Basel player of Kosovo roots claims he has been given no explanation for not being included on the starting line-up and not used as a substitute by coach De Biasi.

Taulant Xhaka, 25, and his younger brother, Swiss international Granit Xhaka, made history at the Euro 2016 becoming the first brothers to face each other on different national sides at a European championship when Albania faced Switzerland at the opening group stage fixture.

Albania will play Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday, March 28 at the Elbasan Arena stadium. The two teams have faced each other four times with each national side having won once and drawn twice.

The Bosnia side travel to Albania after thrashing minnows Gibraltar 5-0 to keep their World Cup qualifying hopes alive as they trail leaders Belgium by 3 points in Group H.

Bosnia and Herzegovina who have been playing as a national side since 1992 after breaking up from former Yugoslavia made their major international debut at the 2014 World Cup. They currently rank 29th in the FIFA March ranking, up 25 spots compared to Albania who have lost considerable ground following three consecutive losses against Spain, Israel and Italy.

The Albanian national side will travel to Israel on June 11 and play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 27, 2017 14:07