Albanian Superliga: Partizani beat reigning champions to gain momentum after sacking former Juventus player

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 20, 2017 18:13

Albanian Superliga: Partizani beat reigning champions to gain momentum after sacking former Juventus player

TIRANA, Nov. 20 – Partizani came from behind to beat reigning champions Kukes 2-1 on Monday and claim victory after a three-game losing streak and one of the poorest championship starts that saw former Juventus defender Mark Iuliano sacked as manager in early November.

Two first-half goals by midfielders Jurgen Bardhi and Gerhard Progni gave Partizani a priceless 2-1 away against first-time Albanian reigning champions Kukes who failed to preserve their early lead after being punished for defensive blunders.

An early penalty kick which Kukes later converted saw new Partizani coach, Albanian experienced coach Sulejman Starova, sent off with a red card for protests against the referee.

Starova, who has led Tirana-based Partizani for most of the time in the past couple of years, was on his second match as Partizani coach this season, replacing Mark Iuliano who claimed only three victories in nine championship games, proving a disaster for one of the most successful Albanian clubs who have been waiting for more than two decades for a comeback as Superliga champions.

A suggestion by former Juventus managing director Lucciano Moggi who has been an adviser to Partizani president Gazmend Demi since late April 2017, little experienced manager Iuliano failed to impress with the Reds and was immediately sacked after losing 1-0 to newly promoted Kamza in early November.

Eighty-year-old Italian transfer guru Moggi, who is suffering a lifetime ban from Italian football for his role in the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal has earlier announced he targets turning Partizani into “a little Juventus.”

“I am not an official with a say in Partizani’s decision-making, but an adviser to President Demi. As such, I have advised the president to create a ‘little Juventus’ which means doing what I achieved with that club, with Torino or Napoli, the establishment of a youth basis because a team cannot only rely on purchases, but also sales,” the 80-year-old has said in a TV interview.

Once the most successful Albanian club under communism, Partizani have won the national league 15 times, but have been trophyless since 1993.

With eleven games played, but 25 others to go, Partizani who finished second last year, rank 6th in the 10-team Albanian Superliga with 14 points so far, trailing leaders Skenderbeu by 13 points and having already received a major blow to their title hopes with the target now being a top three finish and the Albanian Cup which can secure participation in European competitions.

Meanwhile, Skenderbeu, Albania’s most successful club of the past decade who are making their second UEFA Europa League appearance, seem unrivalled in the title race this season, with a seven-point lead over second-placed Vlora-based Flamurtari, which is the surprise team so far, and with bigger advantage over main rivals Kukes and Partizani.

Skenderbeu’s hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the UEFA Europa League received a major setback in early November 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.

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

Having suffered an embarrassing first-ever relegation last season, record 24-times Superliga champions led by Brazilian coach De Maria lead Group B of the First Division but with only a three-point advantage over second-placed Bylis who surprised them with a 1-0 away defeat in early November.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 20, 2017 18:13