Albania brace for tough Spain, Italy tests in final World Cup qualifiers

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 27, 2017 12:17

Albania brace for tough Spain, Italy tests in final World Cup qualifiers

Story Highlights

  • Albania’s new Italian coach Christian Pannuci has described the final qualifiers with Spain and Italy as very tough, but said “Albania will do their best and try to make history.”

Related Articles

By Ervin Lisaku

Group G

Group G standings (FIFA)

TIRANA, Sept. 27 – Albania will conclude their World Cup qualifying campaign with two tough qualifiers against Spain and Italy, two of Europe’s toughest national sides, in a bid to preserve their third place in Group G which earns neither direct qualification, nor a playoff opportunity, but serves the Red & Blacks to improve their seeding ahead of UEFA’s maiden Nations League and the Euro 2020 draws.

Albania will first travel to Spain on October 6 before hosting Italy three days later in their concluding World Cup qualifying fixture, in an almost mission impossible against two former world champions who are unrivalled in the top two finish.

The national side lost both first leg qualifiers against Spain and Italy 2-0 in lackluster performances, but could have done better had they avoided defensive blunders that have haunted Albania during these qualifiers.

In the away qualifier against Spain, Hamburger defender Mergim Mavraj, Sion midfielder Burim Kukeli and Grozny’s right winger Odise Roshi, three regular starters for the Albanian national side, will be missing on yellow card suspension, making it more difficult for Albania to hope for a positive result against the group leaders who remain unbeaten in their eight matches and hold a comfortable 3-point lead over second placed Italy.

The final qualifying campaign fixture on October 9 will be special as Albania plays four-times World Champions Italy, a much supported national side in Albania and whose Serie A top league, where about a dozen of Albanians play, is one of Albanian fans’ favorites.

The match kick-off with Italy at the “Loro Boriçi” stadium in the northern city of Shkodra will be preceded with a farewell ceremony to former legendary captain Lorik Cana, the football association has announced. Albania’s most capped player with 93 games, Cana quit the national side and club football at 33 in mid-2016 after leading the Red & Blacks to a historic first ever appearance in a major competition such as France 2016.

The much-travelled Albanian defender spent four of his best years with Italy’s Lazio from 2011 to 2015 before joining France’s Ligue 1 club Nantes. Born in Kosovo, Cana began his professional career in France with Paris Saint Germain and also played for Marseille, Sunderland and Galatasaray before moving to Lazio in 2011.

Albania’s new Italian coach Christian Pannuci has described the final qualifiers with Spain and Italy as very tough, but said “Albania will do their best and try to make history.”

The 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience will have his third and fourth game in Albania’s lead as he tries to follow in Gianni De Biasi’s footsteps, Albania’s most successful coach who resigned in mid-2017 following a stunning 3-0 away victory to Israel.

The 60-year-old coach who led Albania for five and a half years, including the debut at a major tournament such as Euro 2016, has recently undertaken a new club adventure with Deportivo Alavés in Spain’s La Liga.

In the first two games under Pannuci last September, Albania easily beat modest Liechtenstein 2-0 but claimed a hard-earned 1-1 draw in the away qualifier with neighbouring Macedonia.

With two other games to go, Albania have collected 13 points in 8 qualifiers and comfortably rank third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers, with a four-point lead over fourth-placed Israel, but trailing Italy by six points which makes hopes for a second place and a playoff opportunity an almost mission impossible.

The next challenge for Albania will be to make a good appearance in UEFA’s maiden Nations League and try to repeat history with another qualification for the Euro 2020.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 27, 2017 12:17