Skenderbeu claim first group stage point to keep Europa League qualification hopes alive

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 29, 2017 14:53

Skenderbeu claim first group stage point to keep Europa League qualification hopes alive

Story Highlights

  • Skenderbeu’s next Europa League will be at home to Partizan Belgrade on Oct. 19 in a tough encounter that has already sparked interest following the late 2014 incident in a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier when a drone with a nationalist Albanian symbols at the Belgrade stadium triggered violence and led to the game's suspension.

Related Articles

TIRANA, Sept. 29 – Albania’s Skenderbeu claimed their first Europa League point as they were held to 1-1 draw by Switzerland’s Young Boys in their second group stage game to keep their knockout stage qualification hopes alive.

In their first home encounter of the campaign, Gambian striker Ali Sowe gave Skenderbeu the lead in the 65th minute, but Albania’s sole Europa League representatives failed to resist pressure conceding an equalizer 7 minutes later.

In a balanced encounter where scoring opportunities and ball possession were almost equal, Skenderbeu showed maturity against a club with much more experience in European competitions.

With four other games to go, the Albanian “Snow Wolves” who are only making their second appearance at the UEFA Europa League, have collected only 1 point in their first two fixtures, ranking fourth in Group B, level on points with Partizan Belgrade and trailing Swiss Young Boys by 1 point.

Group favorites Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv who came from behind to beat Skenderbeu 3-1 in their opening game and also beat Partizan Belgrade 3-2 seem unrivalled in the top finish, but the race for the second place and a chance to make it to the knockout stage remains open for all three other contenders.

Coach Ilir Daja said Skenderbeu had already met expectations with its second Europa League appearance and will keep fighting for a second place in the group stage although the club’s priority is the Albanian Superliga which they have dominated in the past decade claiming five straight titles and having one lifted on match-fixing allegations.

Skenderbeu’s next Europa League will be at home to Partizan Belgrade on Oct. 19 in a tough encounter that has already sparked interest following the late 2014 incident in a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier when a drone with a nationalist Albanian symbols at the Belgrade stadium triggered violence and led to the game’s suspension.

The drone’s alleged mastermind, Albanian fan Ismail Ballist Morina has been detained in Croatia on behalf of Serbian authorities and Croatia’s Supreme Court has already ruled in favour of his extradition, but it will be the Croatian justice minister and asylum application procedures that will decide his fate. Italy-based 35-year-old Ballist Morina, dubbed as a hero by Red & Black ‘ultra’ fans fears he will not be handed a fair trial in Serbia and has asked for protection.

Skenderbeu progressed to the 2017 UEFA Europa League group stage as they beat Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb in the qualifying campaign play-offs. The ‘Snow Wolves’ earlier beat Czech Republic’s Mladá Boleslav, Kazakhstan’s Kairat Almaty and modest Andorran side Sant Julia in the first three Europa League qualifying rounds.

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, making history as the only Albanian club to have made it in the final stage of European competitions.

The Korça-based club named after Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg have also made a good start in the Albanian Superliga and are favorites to win this year’s title.

Having played three games, Skenderbeu lead the Albanian Superliga on goal difference over reigning first-time champions Kukes in a season start with not much rivalry as Partizani led by former Juventus player Mark Iuliano and transfer guru Luciano Moggi as advisor have disappointed collecting only 1 point in first three games.

Meanwhile, Albania’s most successful top flight club Tirana is missing in this season’s Superliga following their surprise first-ever relegation last season after about a century in the top Albanian league.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 29, 2017 14:53