Skenderbeu remain Albania’s sole club likely to progress to next Europa League stage

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 30, 2017 11:46

Skenderbeu remain Albania’s sole club likely to progress to next Europa League stage

TIRANA, June 30 – Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club to win in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League qualification campaign on Thursday as Partizani and Tirana suffered defeats making their progress to the next stage an almost mission impossible.

Midfielder Liridon Latifi was Skenderbeu’s hero in the narrow 1-0 home win against Andorra’s modest Sant Julia. The Kosovo-born 23-year-old playmaker converted a spectacular second-half free kick minutes after he missed a penalty kick. The Albanian international is now a key player for Skenderbeu after the departure of striker Hamdi Salihi who will likely play in Austria’s second division next season after spending two years with Skenderbeu when he was its top scorer.

Skenderbeu were lucky to play against a modest opponent, but squandered many scoring opportunities, leaving it all open for the second-leg on the July 6 fixture away to Andorra.

In the UEFA Europa league campaign, Skenderbeu was the only Albanian club that was seeded in the draw thanks to their Europa League European competition in 2015-16 when they became the first-ever Albanian team to play in the group stage of the UEFA Europa League.

The victory against the Andorran club came after Skenderbeu were recently stripped of their 2015-2016 Superliga title by Albania’s Football Association on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five.

Skenderbeu return to European competition after a one-year ban imposed by European football governing body, UEFA, on match-fixing allegations in the 2015-2016 Champions and Europa League campaigns.

Earlier on Thursday, Partizani suffered a humiliating home defeat against Bulgaria’s Botev Plovdiv who came from behind to win 3-1. It all started well for Partizani who took the lead with an early goal by Xhevahir Sukaj, but failed to resist growing pressure by the Bulgarians who scored three times, also taking advantage of some defensive blunders.

Partizani’s hopes of progressing to the next Europa League are almost over as they need to win by a three-goal advantage in the second leg fixture.

Partizani, who finished second in the past two seasons, are now hopeful they will be crowned Superliga champions after Skenderbeu was stripped of its Superliga title. The Reds have been trophyless for more than two decades.

Newly relegated Tirana, who were beaten 2-0 in their first-leg away fixture with Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv, also stand few chances of advancing to the next stage.

The historically most successful Albanian club, are playing the UEFA Europa league thanks to their Albania Cup victory in late May, following a shameful season that saw them suffer their first-ever relegation after almost a century in the top flight of Albanian football.

Tirana, who have won the Albanian championship a record 24 times, became the first-ever relegated Albanian team to play at a European club competition.

Albania’s first-time Superliga winners, Kukes, will make their Champions League qualification campaign debut on July 12, in a tough away fixture against Sheriff, the club who has dominated Moldovan football in the past 16 years.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 30, 2017 11:46