Albania face Israel as shameful Luxembourg defeat extends losing streak to five

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 5, 2017 11:56

Albania face Israel as shameful Luxembourg defeat extends losing streak to five

TIRANA, June 5 – Modest Luxembourg came from behind to beat Albania 2-1 in a friendly ahead of a key World Cup qualifier with Israel, making Albania suffer its fifth consecutive loss since last October, in the longest losing streak in more than a decade.

The friendly was a warm-up for the key June 11 qualifier Albania faces with Israel in what is considered a decisive fixture for the national side’s hopes for a third place finish.

Albania’s Italian coach Gianni De Biasi has now come under fire again and another loss against Israel could prematurely end his Albania contract due to expire next October at the end of World Cup qualification campaign.

Having led Albania for the past five years and managing to take them 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. The national side lost to hosts France and Switzerland but beat Romania 1-0 in their group stage, in impressive performances that led to a heroes’ welcome upon their arrival in Tirana.

Albania’s free fall began last October when the national side was beaten by group leaders Spain, before suffering another two defeats against Israel and Italy and losing its two friendlies against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Luxembourg in the past couple of months.

The long losing streak which Albania had not experienced since 2003 under German coach Hans-Peter Briegel came after the Red & Blacks made a good start in their opening World Cup campaign with two victories against Macedonia and Liechtenstein.

The departure of long-serving captain, center back Lorik Cana following the Euro 2016 campaign, has also left a void that has yet to be filled in the national side’s defence and motivation, two of the weakest points in the past five fixtures.

Speaking after the loss with Luxembourg, coach De Biasi said the team lacks the motivation they had for the Euro 2016 campaign and now have to find the right motivation and strength in themselves

“It was a loss that weighs heavily as we were beaten by a weaker side. The team has not found the desire and determination to achieve their target yet following the Euro campaign,” said De Biasi.

“I have the team under control, but the players must try harder. These players don’t need a push to give their best, they should find the motivation and strength in themselves and do this starting with the next Israel match,” said De Biasi.

“It was an Italian coach who made this team think that dreams can come true and convinced them they could fly and they flew into the European championship,” said De Biasi.

The 60-year-old former Torino and Udinese club coach was also rumored to take over Italy following the Euro 2016 campaign and has not hidden his ambition to train a big national side or club.

The national side will be training in Istanbul for its key June 11 qualifier away to Israel in a bid to overcome their losing run and avenge their home defeat.

Down to nine men, Albania lost 3-0 in their home qualifier against Israel last November in an inaugural match played under extremely tight security measures over fears of a possible terrorist attack, irritating the Red & Black fans who have since boycotted the national side’s matches, claiming unfair treatment by police forces.

“Last November’s home qualifier left a bad taste in our mouth. It was both the referee and we who were not focused on an important target making the opponent’s job easier. Israel are a tough side and at this level you cannot face anybody by not showing real determination,” says De Biasi.

 

Qualification bid over

Albania’s chances of making it to the World Cup are almost zero now following three consecutive losses in the qualifying campaign including against group leaders Spain and Italy, but the Israel qualifier will be key in the fight for a third place which earns no play-off opportunity, but serves the teams to improve their seeding ahead of the Euro 2020 qualification draw.

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.

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.

Israel, who take on Albania following a 4-1 loss to group leaders Spain, also targets a third place to improve its seeding ahead of the Euro 2020 campaign.

“We beat Macedonia and Albania on the road and third place is our real target,” Israeli coach Elisha Levy has said.

Albania’s national side features players in the Italian, German, Swiss, Turkish and U.S top leagues with Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj, Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, Hamburger center back Mergim Mavraj, Istanbul Basaksehir striker Sokol Cikalleshi and Lugano forward Armando Sadiku as some of the most prominent.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 5, 2017 11:56