Albania claim hard-earned draw in qualifier with Macedonia

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 6, 2017 10:19

Albania claim hard-earned draw in qualifier with Macedonia

Midfielder Odise Roshi was Albania's protagonist giving the national side the lead, but also inflicting a penalty earning Macedonia an equalizer. Photo: Albanian Football Association

Midfielder Odise Roshi was Albania’s protagonist giving the national side the lead, but also committing a foul leading to a penalty, earning Macedonia an equalizer. Photo: Albanian Football Association

By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Sept. 6 – Albania were a held to a draw by Macedonia in tough away World Cup qualifier on Tuesday night in a lackluster performance which was the first real test for the national side and new coach Christian Pannuci after the departure of Gianni De Biasi.

The Red & Blacks suffered in the first half but two second half replacements proved decisive with substitute midfielder Odise Roshi giving the national side the lead with a wonderful header following a deep delivery by striker Armando Sadiku.

Russia’s Akhmat Grozny midfielder Roshi was the real protagonist as he later committed a foul leading to a penalty after a needless hand touch, giving Macedonia a deserved equalizer.

Albania were unlucky in the 59th minute as Legia Warsaw striker Armando Sadiku missed the target from close range after an assist by substitute playmaker Ledian Memushaj who will be playing for newly promoted Serie A Benevento this season.

However, after Macedonia’s equalizer, Albania were really lucky to get away with a draw, also thanks to some wonderful saves by Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.

Neighbouring Macedonia dominated the game in terms of shots on target and ball possession, unveiling the national side has a lot of work to do in its new era with Christian Pannuci, a 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience.

The match played at Mladost Stadium in Strumica town, east of the country close to Macedonia’s border with Bulgaria, was also a small Albanian derby as neighbouring Macedonia had three ethnic Albanian players in its starting line-up, with Leeds attacking midfielder Ezgjan Alioski being one of the best for Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a third of the 2 million population in Macedonia, where ethnic tensions are still present.

While everything went quite smooth, local media reported there were racist chants by Macedonian fans, which could lead to FIFA investigation and punishment.

However, the draw away to Macedonia served Albania to strengthen its third place in Group G of the qualifier where former World Cup champions Spain and Italy seem unrivalled in the top two finish with only two games remaining.

Coach Christian Pannuci considered the draw with Macedonia a fair result, saying Albania will “try to change history in the remaining two games with Spain and Italy.”

Albania now rank third with 13 points, trailing second-placed Italy by 6 points and 4 points above fourth-placed Israel.

Macedonia have collected seven points while modest Liechtenstein have yet to earn a point.

Albania will close its World Cup qualifiers next October with two tough fixtures away to Spain and at home to Italy, hopeful to preserve their third place which earns neither direct qualification nor a playoff opportunity for Russia 2018 but improves the national side’s seeding in upcoming draws.

The Red & Blacks are hopeful they will repeat history in Euro 2020 with a second appearance in a major competition following their 2016 debut.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 6, 2017 10:19