2017 Sport in review

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 29, 2017 09:20

2017 Sport in review


 Izmir Smajlaj claims first ever European indoor gold medal

 Izmir Smajlaj was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships as he jumped 8.08 metres to break his own national record, beating Swedish favourite Michel Torneus.

The gold medal, the first ever for Albania at a European indoor event, came soon after the 23-year-old champion claimed gold for Albania at the Balkan Indoor, a test event for Belgrade’s European Indoor Championships.

Speaking to reporters after the victory, Smajlaj said the gold medal was a dream come true for him.



Minnows Kukes claim first Superliga title

Having played in the top flight of Albanian football for only the past five years, north-east Albania-based Kukes made history in the Albanian Superliga as they beat rivals Skenderbeu amid controversy to claim their first championship in their penultimate game.

With Skenderbeu in 9-men for about 30 minutes, it wasCroatian striker Pero Pejic again who sealed the result with an injury time goal to give Kukes a four-point lead over second-placed Partizani and Skenderbeu and make history for Kukes, with not much history in Albanian football, but having finished second three times in their past five years of playing in the Superliga.

The victory also put an end to Skenderbeu’s domination of Albania football after the south-east Albania-based club won the Albanian Superliga for six consecutive years.


Tirana relegated after a century in top flight

 Albania’s historically most successful club, FK Tirana, was relegated after almost a century in the top flight of Albania’s national football, irritating dozens of thousands of fans and club legends over the poor management of the 24-times record holder champions.

The relegation came after Tirana failed to win its do-or-die fixture against Vllaznia after the White & Blues were held to goalless draw in the closing Superliga tie, plunging Tirana to the First Division.  Both teams, two of the eldest and best in Albanian football history, faced the relegation threat in case of losing, but could have also secured their stay in the top flight with a draw had Laçi not beaten unmotivated Teuta in the closing Superliga week.

Tirana’s relegation comes following a series of losses in the championship’s second stage and amid financial problems with the world’s football governing body, FIFA, banning the Albanian club from the winter transfer window in punishment for debts to players. The country’s most successful club also lacked the support of its “Tirona Fanatics,” the club’s strongest supporters, who have been boycotting the club’s matches since last March in protest for the club’s poor performance and a decision by the club’s owners to allow arch rivals Partizani play their home matches at Tirana’s stadium.



De Biasi unexpectedly resigns as Albania coach

Gianni De Biasi officially resigned as Albania coach in an unexpected decision after he earlier announced he would be leaving Albania by October 2017 at the end of the World Cup qualification campaign when his contract expires.

The decision comes at a time when Albania made a turning point with a 3-0 away victory with Israel after a shameful five-game losing streak the national side had not experienced in more than a decade.

“I have long thought and meditated and would like to inform you that as of today I will no longer be the coach of our national side. I will stop here because I want the team’s best and its growth. I think I have fulfilled my duty which allowed me get from these guys those qualities that in the recent past enabled us to live the European Dream,” De Biasi said with tears in his eyes, reading a farewell letter.

The former Torino and Udinese boss who also obtained Albanian citizenship in 2015, managed to take Albania to a first-ever major competition such as Euro 2016.


First Albanian woman climbs Everest

Uta Ibrahimi has become the first Albanian woman to climb Everest, the world’s highest peak of 8,848 meters and every climber’s lifetime dream.

The 33-year Kosovo climber reached the Everest summit on May 22, when she unfolded a scarf with the Kosovo and Albanian flags.

The 33-year-old Kosovo climber described climbing Everest as her best life experience.

“I am so happy to bring Albanian and Kosovo flag on top of the world as the first Albanian woman. Thanks for your support and love that made this expedition much easier and enjoyable… and my hero-climbing partner Tendi Sherpa Utalaya,” wrote Ibrahimi, a climber based in Prishtina, the Kosovo capital city, where she runs an outdoor adventure travel agency.

The Kosovo-Albanian climber undertook the challenge after having earlier climbed the 4,880m Mount Blanc and reached the 5,925m Ramdug Peak in the Himalayas.

She was picked by the Tirana-based Dajti Alpine-Tourist Association as the first Albanian woman to undertake this tough challenge due to having the required physical and psychological condition.



Euro 2020 qualification target set for new Albania coach

 Italian Christian Panucci has been officially introduced as the new Albania coach, replacing Gianni De Biasi in a tough bid to make another surprise Euro qualification as hopes for a World Cup qualification are almost over.

The former 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender said he wanted to follow in De Biasi’s footsteps.

“The goal is to make it to the Euro 2020, it’s the sole big target we have. This is what we have to do, I am convinced we have the right team to make it,” said Panucci.

The 44-year old has little experience as a manager, but his young age and modest financial criteria seem to have led to a deal. Panucci’s managerial experience started in 2012 when he served as assistant to Fabio Capello, one of the greatest Italian coaches, when he was leading the Russian national side. Panucci also managed Serie B sides Livorno, Ternana in the past couple of years.

“It was quite easy for me as being Albania’s coach is really prestigious and an important opportunity,” said Panucci.

The Italian, who has signed a 48-month contract will reportedly earn about €20,000 a month, half of what De Biasi was paid in the past couple of years.



Albania conclude World Cup qualifying campaign

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 later lost their play-off against Sweden failing to qualify for the World Cup tournament for the first time in six decades.

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

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.



Ten-man Albania surprise Turkey with away victory

Albania beat Turkey 3-2 in a surprise away victory as the Red & Blacks played in 10 men for most of the time after playmaker Ledian Memushaj was sent off with a second yellow card just before the first half.

A double by Legia Warsaw striker Armando Sadiku gave Albania a comfortable first half lead, but down to 10 men from the 41st minute Albania suffered in the second half and had to defend almost all the time to curb Turkey’s numerical superiority.

The friendly was a test for the national side as it prepares for the Euro 2020 qualifiers having failed to make it to the World Cup finishing third in a tough group stage that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy.


Home win against Dynamo Kiev not enough for Skenderbeu

Albania’s Skenderbeu bid adieu to their Europa League knockout stage qualification dream despite claiming a deserved home win against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv, their first in the first five group stage games.

In a home encounter played behind closed doors following UEFA punishment over crowd trouble, Skenderbeu came from behind to beat the Group B leaders 3-2 and avenge their first leg defeat against Ukraine’s toughest side.

However, Skenderbeu’s victory was downgraded by Partizan’s Belgrade’s home victory against Swiss Young Boys as the Serbians managed to maintain their three-point lead over the Albanian club with one final game to go. The Serbian club have now mathematically secured their qualification to the next stage on a better head-to-head record having claimed a home victory against Skenderbeu and drawn in their first-leg encounter.



Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 29, 2017 09:20