Albania’s Vllaznia suffer dramatic relegation ahead of hundredth anniversary

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 24, 2018 11:42

Albania’s Vllaznia suffer dramatic relegation ahead of hundredth anniversary

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  • Vllaznia’s relegation comes amid financial problems and at a time when the club has been out of the top five since 2011-2012 campaign and failed to attract any investor following recent privatization plans

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By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, May 24 – Vllaznia have been relegated from the Albanian Superliga in a dramatic situation for an elite club with a hundred years of history in the top flight of Albanian football and who suffered their last demotion almost six decades ago in the early 1960s.

The Shkodra-based club, northern Albania, won two of their last Superliga games against second-placed Kukes and new champions Skenderbeu, but that was useless as their relegation zone rivals Kamza got a surprise 1-0 win in this week’s final sprint amid allegations of lack of motivation by Partizani.

Vllaznia were set for relegation two weeks ago after a shock 2-0 away defeat to Partizani extended their gap to nearest rivals Teuta and Kamza to five points, triggering protests by fans irritated over the club’s poor performance which they blame on Shkodra municipality, the largest local government unit in northern Albania which fully owns and manages the Vllaznia.

Vllaznia claimed a 5-1 away victory against unmotivated Skenderbeu who had already mathematically secured their eighth Superliga title three weeks ago. Wednesday’s game in Korça, southeastern Albania, marked tragedy for Vllaznia and celebration for Skenderbeu who lifted their eighth trophy, seven of which claimed in the past decade.

Vllaznia’s relegation comes amid financial problems and at a time when the club has been out of the top five since 2011-2012 campaign and failed to attract any investor following recent privatization plans.

Last year, Vllaznia escaped relegation in their final championship game decider with Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club which will be back to Superliga next season following an embarrassing first-ever relegation.

Having produced some of Albania’s best talents, Vllaznia is one of the eldest clubs in the country and have won nine championship titles and six Albanian Cups. Their relegation is the worst present to fans as the club will be celebrating their 100th anniversary of establishment in the second tier in February 2019.

Critics have blamed the 10-team Albanian Superliga that Albania has been applying since 2014 for the relegation of some of Albania’s elite clubs. Until 2013, the Albanian Superliga had 14 teams, four of which were relegated and played 26 matches in two stages.

The competition got tougher after Albania adopted a four-stage championship with ten teams and two relegations out of 36 league games.

With Skenderbeu temporarily suspended to appear at European competition following a tough UEFA ban of 10 years and a €1 million fine over match fixing, second placed Kukes are set to replace them in the Champions League preliminary campaign.

All eyes for Skenderbeu, the only Albanian team to have made it twice at the Europa League group stage, are now on Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration where they will be hoping to temporarily lift the UEFA punishment, allowing them to play for the upcoming Champions League campaign until a final court say.

Skenderbeu will play Laçi on May 27 in the Albanian Cup final, hopeful of celebrating a league and cup double.

Luftetari are the surprise team of this Superliga season as they finished third to secure a first-ever Europa League play-off. Their 24-year-old striker Kristal Abazaj will be playing for Belgian giants Anderlecht following a three-year contract for a reported €750,000 fee in the most expensive transfer for an Albanian player.

Kukes striker Sindrit Guri will also join Belgian top league side Oostende next season following an impressive season with Kukes, having scored 20 goals one fewer than top scorer Ali Sowe, Skenderbeu’s Gambian striker.

Both Abazaj and Guri have received calls by Albania’s Italian coach Christian Panucci as two discoveries in this Superliga season in a national side dominated by players in top European leagues.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 24, 2018 11:42