Albanian clubs face tough European competition opponents

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 21, 2018 15:01

Albanian clubs face tough European competition opponents

Story Highlights

  • Kukes finished second at the Albanian Superliga but were made eligible to play at the Champions League campaign thanks to a ban handed to Albanian champions Skenderbeu by European football’s governing body, UEFA

Related Articles

TIRANA, June 21 – Albanian teams have been drawn against rather tough opponents for their Champions League and Europa League qualifying campaigns.

Kukes are the luckiest team on paper having been drawn against Valleta, a team that has dominated Malta’s top league in the past few years but likewise Kukes have never made it to the final stage of a European club competition.

Kukes finished second at the Albanian Superliga but were made eligible to play at the Champions League campaign thanks to a ban handed to Albanian champions Skenderbeu by European football’s governing body. Having dominated Albanian football during the past decade and being the only Albanian club to have made it twice to the Europa League group stage, Skenderbeu have been handed a 10-year ban and a €1 million fine by UEFA over match-fixing in the severest punishment ever handed to a European club.

Skenderbeu’s only hope is now Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport where they will be appealing UEFA’s decision, hopefully reducing the ban.

A north-eastern Albania based club with not much history in the top flight of Albanian football, Kukes made history last year as they claimed their first-ever Superliga title in a season which saw the relegation of Tirana, the 24-times record Superliga champions. The club is led by experienced Austrian coach Peter Pacult, a former striker who has trained teams in Austria and Germany, Slovenia and Croatia top leagues. He has been in charge of Kukes since last January and confirmed for another season.

Kukes have recently hired Bosnian striker Haris Harba to replace their top scorer, 24-year-old Sindrit Guri who will be playing for Belgian top league side Oostende next season.

Their first qualifying round game will be at home on July 10 before travelling to Malta seven days later.

Kukes need to qualify over three rounds and also win a play-off round in order to make it to the Champions League group stage, but can also make it to the Europa League in case of losing the third qualifying round fixture and winning a Europa League play-off.

At the UEFA Europa League qualification campaign, Albania’s Luftetari, a surprise team that finished third in the last season of Albania’s Superliga, will face Latvia’s Ventspils in the first qualifying round. A team that is making their debut at European competition, Luftetari are expected to face a tough test against Ventspils, a club that in 2009 became Latvia’s first to make it to the group stage of the Europa League. Luftetari take the campaign without their key players of the last season. Their 24-year-old striker Kristal Abazaj will be playing for Belgian giants Anderlecht next season following a three-year contract for a reported €750,000 fee in the most expensive transfer ever for an Albanian player.

Luftetari play their first-leg game away to Latvia on July 12.

Albania’s Laçi who finished fourth last season and also made it to the Albanian Cup final will face Cyprus’s Anorthosis in the first leg of the Europa League.

Meanwhile, Partizani, a club with much history in Albanian football but who have failed to win the Superliga since the early 1990s, face Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful club who have earlier appeared both at the Champions League and Europa League group stages.

After rivalling for the title in the previous two seasons, Partizani finished fifth last season and made it to the Europa League only thanks to Skenderbeu’s UEFA ban.

Partizani’s 2017-18 campaign project with Lucciano Moggi, the  former Juventus managing director who is suffering a lifetime ban from Italian football for his role in the 2006 ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal, and former Juventus player Mark Iuliano who only had a short spell as Partizani coach, failed to produce any result.

The 2017-2018 Albanian Superliga saw the relegation of Vllaznia, one of Albania’s elite club and the promotion of Tirana, Albania’s historically most successful club following an embarrassing one-year relegation. The championship also produced two key attacking players such as Kristal Abazaj and Sindrit Guri who also received calls for the national side in friendless ahead of the next September’s Nations League kick off.

Albania’s national side have made a poor start this year, losing all three warm-up games against Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine, and look far from their impressive 2016 Euro qualification campaign when they surprised with the country’s first ever appearance at a major competition.

 

 

First-leg qualifying games for Albanian clubs

 

Kukës (ALB) v Valletta (MLT) – July 10

 Partizani (ALB) v Maribor (SVN)  – July 12

Ventspils (LVA) v Luftëtari (ALB) – July 12

Anorthosis Famagusta (CYP) v Laçi (ALB)  – July 12

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 21, 2018 15:01