Albania lined up in tough rivalry division with Serbia, Greece for maiden UEFA Nations League

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 12, 2017 11:04

Albania lined up in tough rivalry division with Serbia, Greece for maiden UEFA Nations League

league 2TIRANA, Oct. 12 – Albania has been lined up in League C of the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

In a four-league competition based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the European football’s governing body has placed Albania in League C mostly featuring South-East Europe national sides with Serbia and Greece as the toughest sides. Serbia managed to directly qualify for the 2018 World Cup while Greece earned a play-off opportunity.

Previous games between Albania and Serbia have proved problematic, triggering ethnic tensions.

A late 2014 incident in a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier when a drone with nationalist Albanian symbols was flown 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.

Rivalry with Greece is also tough even in football considering some unsettled disputes between the two countries, but previous games with the neighbouring country, host to about half a million Albanian migrants, have gone smooth. In their last encounters as part of the 2006 World Cup qualification campaign, Albania beat then-reigning surprise European champions Greece 2-1 and lost 2-0 in the away qualifier.

The 15 League C contestants will be split into one group of three and three groups of four. The four group winners are promoted to League B, with the four sides that finish bottom relegated to League D for the 2020 edition.

The UEFA Nations League will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament, with four sides qualifying through play-off matches which take place in March 2020.

The top four-ranked League C teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

Chances for Albania and other contenders to make it EURO 2020 in case of failing to qualify directly as the top two group stage teams in the qualification campaign, are only through the National League tournament as the third-placed team is no longer provided a play-off opportunity.

Chances increase as if a UEFA Nations League group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league.

Albania claimed a first-ever direct qualification in the EURO 2020 qualification campaign, finishing second in a tough group stage that also featured reigning European champions Portugal as well as Denmark and Serbia.

In the 2018 World Cup qualification campaign, Albanian finished third in a group stage it could not do much against former world champions Spain and Italy.

Albania’s coach Christian Pannuci has been set a Euro 2020 qualification task as he succeeded Italian compatriot Gianni De Biasi in mid-2017 and led the national side in its last four World Cup qualifiers.

Under his lead, Albania easily beat modest Liechtenstein, got a hard-earned draw against Macedonia, but was thrashed 3-0 by group leaders Spain and narrowly lost 1-0 in the final home qualifier with Italy to finish third in the Group G of the qualifiers.

Featuring 55 European national sides divided into four leagues, the UEFA Nations League group games will be held over six matchdays, during the ‘double-headers’ in September, October and November 2018.

The last four EURO places will be won through the European Qualifiers play-offs, which will take place in March 2020 and which will be contested by the 16 UEFA Nations League group winners.

The League Phase Draw for the UEFA Nations League will take place in Switzerland on 24 January 2018.

Arguing that friendly internationals are not providing adequate sporting competition, European football’s governing body says its maiden Nations League creates more meaningful and competitive matches for teams and a dedicated calendar and structure for national team football.

“For middle-ranking and smaller nations, the UEFA Nations League will offer an extra way to qualify for UEFA EURO final tournaments while lower-tier countries – the bottom 16 in the rankings – are now guaranteed one of the 24 qualifying slots for UEFA EURO,” UEFA says.

While the UEFA Nations League will replace most friendly internationals, there will still be space in the calendar for friendlies, especially for top teams who may want to face opposition from outside Europe as they will be in groups of three teams.

However, many fans, players and pundits have expressed some confusion over the idea, particularly as it will run alongside qualifying for the 2020 European Championship.

 

UEFA Nations League sections

League A: Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, France, England, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Croatia, Netherlands

League B: Austria, Wales, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey

League C: Hungary, Romania, Scotland, Slovenia, Greece, Serbia, Albania, Norway, Montenegro, Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania

League D: Azerbaijan, FYR Macedonia, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra, Kosovo, San Marino, Gibraltar

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 12, 2017 11:04