Skenderbeu’s Europa League hopes suffer blow after Partizan Belgrade defeat

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 3, 2017 13:47

Skenderbeu’s Europa League hopes suffer blow after Partizan Belgrade defeat

TIRANA, Nov. 2 – Skenderbeu’s hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the UEFA Europa League received a major setback on Thursday night as Albania’s most successful club of the past decade were beaten 2-0 by Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade in an away encounter held under tight security measures.

The loss in Belgrade leaves Skenderbeu bottom in Group B with 2 points, trailing third-placed Swiss Young Boys by 1 point and Partizan Belgrade by 3 points. Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv beat Young Boys 1-0 in an away victory that mathematically secured their knockout stage qualification with a five-point lead over now second-placed Partizan Belgrade.

With two other games to go, qualification hopes for Skenderbeu who face difficult encounters against the Ukrainians and the Swiss in their final group stage matches, are quite slim and only two victories could see the Albanian club progress to the next round as the second best Group B team.

Having held Partizan Belgrade to a goalless draw at home in the first leg tie, Skenderbeu paid dear for their defensive mistakes, especially in the second goal when two of its best player, captain and goalkeeper Orges Shehi and midfielder Sabien Lilaj provided an assist for the Partizani striker following a misunderstanding.

The same to the Albania encounter, away fans were banned to attend the game on security grounds in UEFA-proposed measured following a drone incident at the Belgrade stadium in late 2014 in a Serbia-Albania Euro 2016 qualifier, leading to the game’s suspension.

The match was played under tight security with heavy police presence cited as a concern with a psychological effect on Skenderbeu’s performance.

“There was no problem during the match, but when you see so much police presence, that is not the appropriate environment for a football match,” said Skenderbeu’s coach Ilir Daja.

Local media reported there were also racist chants by Partizani supporters, which could trigger possible punishment by European football’s governing body, UEFA.

In last month’s first-leg encounter, Skenderbeu were fined €60,000 by UEFA over illicit chants, fireworks and racist behaviour and also ordered to play their next Europa League home game behind closed doors.

Skenderbeu will play at home against Dynamo Kyiv on Nov. 23 before concluding their group stage away to Switzerland’s Young Boys on December 7.

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.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 3, 2017 13:47