Albania’s Skenderbeu held to goalless draw in smooth fixture with Partizan Belgrade

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 20, 2017 11:28

Albania’s Skenderbeu held to goalless draw in smooth fixture with Partizan Belgrade

Story Highlights

  • Albania’s sole Europa League representatives played as equal against an opponent with much more history in European competitions to claim another priceless point and keep alive their knockout stage qualification hopes. Skenderbeu captain, 40-year-old goalkeeper Orges Shehi, was again decisive for the Snow Wolves as he made some perfect late saves that could have otherwise punished Albania’s most successful club of the past decade.

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By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Oct. 20 – Skenderbeu were held to a goalless draw on Thursday night by Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade in a tough home encounter for the Europa League group stage where Serbian fans were banned to support their team on security grounds.

Albania’s sole Europa League representatives played as equal against an opponent with much more history in European competitions to claim another priceless point and keep alive their knockout stage qualification hopes.  Skenderbeu captain, 40-year-old goalkeeper Orges Shehi, was again decisive for the Snow Wolves as he made some perfect late saves that could have otherwise punished Albania’s most successful club of the past decade.

With three other games to go, Skenderbeu who currently rank bottom in Group B of the Europa League group stage can still hope for a top two finish as they are currently level on points with Partizan Belgrade and trail second-placed Swiss Young Boys by only one point.

Ukrainian Dynamo Kyiv who were held to a 2-2 home draw by Young Boys on Thursday night are the group favorites for a direct qualification to the knockout stage with a comfortable four-point lead over the Swiss side.

No Serbian fans were allowed to support Partizani Belgrade for the first-leg encounter in Albania as both clubs agreed to a request by European football’s governing body, UEFA, to avoid possible crowd incidents which in this specific encounter could also be triggered by a nationalist background. The same away fan ban will also apply for the next group stage Skenderbeu will play in Belgrade on November 2.

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.

Partizan Belgrade coach Miroslav Djukic said he was pleased with the result and the hospitality they found in Albania.

“There was no problem, on the pitch it was a very tough match and I have the best impressions. We are happy for the hospitality and we would like to show the same hospitality in Belgrade but with a different result,” said the Serbia coach.

“The group stage teams are more or less equal and the upcoming fixture will be decisive for next stage,” he told Albanian reporters.

Albanian coach Ilir Daja said he was pleased with the draw against a tough opponent and considering the fact that the team was forced to make a compulsory replacement of a key player such as Croatian center back Marko Radas who has been playing with Skenderbeu for the last six seasons.

“It was a match which in addition to the direct fight on the pitch, there was also emotional tension and the players didn’t have the required calmness,” said Daja.

“We played with dignity against a tough opponent. We did well on everything except for not scoring and not claiming the first victory,” he added.

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.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 20, 2017 11:28