Italy claim hard-earned win against Albania to get seeded for World Cup play-offs

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 10, 2017 11:20

Italy claim hard-earned win against Albania to get seeded for World Cup play-offs

Fans unveil a giant Cana shirt reading "Cana forever": Photo: Albanian Football Association

Fans unveil a giant Cana shirt reading “Cana forever”: Photo: Albanian Football Association

TIRANA, Oct. 10 – Albania concluded their World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow 1-0 loss against four-time world champions Italy, finishing third in a tough group stage dominated by Spain who automatically qualified for Russia 2018.

The national side produced a good performance and were almost equal to the Italians who had already secured a play-off but desperately needed a win to be seeded in the pot with four highest-ranked teams for the Russia 2018 play-off draw on Oct. 17 when they learn their opponents.

The Italians came to Albania after a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Macedonia and finished their qualifying campaign trailing group leaders Spain by 5 points, drawing criticism by Italian media.

Held under tight security measures over fears of possible terrorist incidents, the match at Shkopdra’s “Loro Borici” stadium, Italy’s first in Albania, was decided by a second half winner by Inter midfielder Antonio Candreva.

Albania’s legendary captain, the national side’s most capped player with 93 games, bid adieu to a sellout crowd of 16,000 in a farewell ceremony accompanied by his Italian wife and two-year-old son. The much travelled defender who played in France, Italy, England and Turkey, 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 Four world cups Italy have claimed were also displayed at the local “Migjeni” theatre in Shkodra, northern Albania, in an exhibition paying tribute to the popularity of the Italian national side in Albania.

Albania collected 13 points in 10 matches in the World Cup qualifying campaign and much of the success for finishing third is dedicated to Gianni De Biasi, Christian Pannuci’s predecessor who led Albania to first-ever appearance to a major competition such as Euro 2016. De Biasi, who now coaches Deportivo Alavés at Spain’s top league, quit the national side in mid-2016 after avenging Israel with 3-0 away win.

Having led Albania in the last four qualifiers, Pannuci, a 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience, only managed to beat modest Liechtenstein and get a hard-earned draw away to Macedonia in the first two games.

In the away qualifier with Spain, Albania was thrashed 3-0 in the first 27 minutes and could do little against Real Madrid and Barcelona stars despite hitting the bar twice with two headers. Spain, who remained unbeaten in their qualifying campaign, also beat second-placed Italy 3-0 last September to extend their lead.

The next challenge for Albania and coach Pannuci 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 October 10, 2017 11:20