Albanian internationals shine with European clubs
TIRANA, April 4 – Sokol Cikalleshi came in as a substitute only ten minutes before the final whistle to punish his former Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir with an injury time winner and give a blow to its title hopes last weekend.
The 26-year-old Albanian international striker moved to Akhisar Belediye in late January on loan from Basaksehir following few playing opportunities during the past year and the club’s signing of former Arsenal and Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
“I am happy I scored a last-minute winner even though it was a match against Basaksehir who lost 50 percent of their chances for the championship title,” Cikalleshi told Albanian media.
A product of the Albanian championship where he played several years until 2014, Cikalleshi has been playing in Turkey for the past couple of years following a brief spell in Croatia with Split.
“To tell the truth I feel an Akhisar player now even though I am here on a six-month loan,” he added.
The powerful striker was De Biasi’s first choice in the World Cup qualifier with Italy on March 24, when he squandered a golden early opportunity as he fired only inches wide of Italy’s right post in the opening minute.
Elsewhere, in the Italian championship Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj and Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha produced some impressive performances.
A regular starter with Napoli since joining in 2015, 22-year-old Hysaj was one of the key contributors to holding Serie A leaders Juventus to a 1-1 draw last weekend.
“It seems as though Napoli’s Albanian right full-back has regained his form. He put in a master shift tonight down the right flank defensively and joined the attack throughout the whole 90 minutes. Exceptional,” wrote the Italian Football Daily portal.
The Napoli fullback has been on the watch by several big teams following his impressive games in Serie A and the Champions League in the past two seasons.
Atalanta striker Etrit Berisha who missed Albania’s last qualifier with Italy due to a red card disqualification produced another impressive performance as he helped Atalanta win 5-0, being a protagonist with several saves and incurring a rough foul leading to an opponent being sent off.
Twenty-one-year-old goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha received criticism for his performance with Lazio last weekend as needlessly fouled a player in the box conceding a penalty kick.
In Germany, Albania’s international center back Mergim Mavraj played a full 90 minutes with Hamburger to beat his former Bundesliga side Cologne 2-1 with a late precious winner, keeping his new side just above the relegation zone.
Mavraj moved to Hamburger from Cologne on a two-and-a-half-year deal for a €1.8 million fee in late December in a surprise move as the defender was playing one of his best seasons, having made it to the surprise Bundesliga team after an injury that kept him off the pitch for 20 games last season.
The impressive performance that some key Albanian internationals have been making with their clubs during this season has not helped much the national side, which is facing one of the most difficult moments in a decade following the Euro 2016 debut, the country’s first-ever participation in a major tournament.
The national side and coach De Biasi have been under fire following four consecutive defeats, including three World Cup qualifiers and a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina, a losing streak Albania had not been suffering since more than a decade ago.
Having led Albania for the past five years and managing to take it to a first ever major competition such as the Euro 2016, the national side led by De Biasi has left much to be desired following the impressive Euro 2016 debut when Albania was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed sides, punished by its goal difference.
Albania now stands almost zero chances to make it to the World Cup tournament following losses to favourites Spain and France and Israel.