Albania to play friendlies with Kosovo, Ukraine ahead of Nations League campaign

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 16, 2018 11:30

Albania to play friendlies with Kosovo, Ukraine ahead of Nations League campaign

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  • The two friendlies are considered key for Albania’s coach Christian Panucci ahead of next September’s start of the UEFA Nations League campaign and forced changes in the national side as some key players of the national side’s Euro 2016 success have been sidelined by their European clubs for most of this season

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TIRANA, May 16 – Albania will play two friendlies against Kosovo and Ukraine in the next couple of weeks in two key tests ahead of the Nations League campaign, says the country’s football association.

The national side will be training in Switzerland for about ten days in late May and will initially take on Kosovo on May 29 in what will be a small derby of Albanian roots as half of Albania’s national side players are of Kosovo-Albanian origin.

Rivalry between Albania and Kosovo has been tough after Kosovo’s 2016 admission as full UEFA and FIFA member and some players leaving Albania to play for the Kosovo national side which played their debut World Cup qualifying campaign. Rivalry continues in bringing talents, with players of Kosovo origin in dilemma whether to join Albania or Kosovo.

The last time Albania and Kosovo played each other was in November 2015 after Albania secured a historic first-ever appearance at a major international competition such as the Euro 2016. Played in Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, the game ended in a 2-2 draw, in celebration of the historic achievement for Albanian football.

Albania’s second friendly will be on June 3 against Ukraine, a much tougher national side whom Albania have only managed to get a draw and lost four times in World Cup qualifiers and friendlies in the past two decades.

The two friendlies are considered key for Albania’s coach Christian Panucci ahead of next September’s start of the UEFA Nations League campaign and forced changes in the national side as some key players of the national side’s Euro 2016 success have been sidelined by their European clubs for most of this season.

Striker Armando Sadiku, midfielder Ledian Memushaj and defender Mergim Mavraj, three key players of the national side, have not been in the starting line-ups with their Spanish, Italian and German top league clubs for most of the season, which is major setback for the national side and coach Panucci ahead of the Nations League, an inaugural UEFA 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.

Two Albanian Superliga talents, 21-year-old striker Kristal Abazaj and 24-year-old Sindrit Guri, who will both be playing for Belgian top league clubs Anderlecht and Oostende next season, are set join the national side.

Albania has been drawn against Scotland and Israel in the Nations League Group 1 of League C, the only group featuring three teams, with the remaining three others showcasing four teams.

The national side will start the Nations League campaign on Sept. 7, 2018 when they host Israel, a team Albania first faced in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with both sides managing to get 3-0 away victories in their two-legged encounters, but Albania finishing third in a tough group campaign dominated by Spain and Italy.

Scotland, a team which Albania has never faced before is the toughest team in the group, with a lot of experience in World Cup and European tournaments, but having failed to reach a major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

Albania travel to Scotland on Sept. 10, three days after playing Israel, to conclude their first-leg Nations League fixtures. The second leg-games will be away to Israel on Oct. 14 and at home to Scotland on Nov. 17.

Albania have made a poor start this year after losing a home friendly against Norway and making one of their worst performances in the past few years and look far from the impressive form of the Euro 2016 when they claimed their first-ever group stage appearance.

Albania will also play two home friendlies against Wales and Jordan next October and November during the ‘free’ international match days of the Nations League competition.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 16, 2018 11:30