Albania’s Kukes claim hard-earned win over Valleta to keep qualifying hopes alive

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 18, 2018 11:25

Albania’s Kukes claim hard-earned win over Valleta to keep qualifying hopes alive

kukes

Georgian midfielder Irakli Dzaria was the Kukes hero as he netted a precious equalizer. Photos: F.K. Kukesi

TIRANA, July 18 – Albania’s Kukes scored a late away equalizer against Malta’s Valleta to make it to the Champions League second qualifying round following a disappointing goalless draw in last week’s first-leg home encounter.

Kukes were lucky to qualify to the next round as Valleta dominated both games in what was initially perceived as an easy draw for Albanian Superliga runners-up replacing champions Skenderbeu who are battling a 10-year European competition ban handed by UEFA on match fixing at Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Georgian midfielder Irakli Dzaria was the Kukes hero as he netted a precious equalizer that earned Kukes a second round Champions League qualification where they face much tougher competition, but also stand a chance to continue competing at European level by entering the third qualifying round of the less prestigious UEFA Europa League in case they fail to further progress.

The first-leg goalless draw cost Austrian coach Peter Pacult his job as Kukes coach. The experienced Austrian coach was replaced last weekend with Albanian coach Armando Cungu, who was in charge of Kukes in the 2012-13 when they finished second to earn their debut European competition appearance.

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.

Kukes made their best European level performance in the 2013-14 Europa League campaign when they were eliminated in the play-off round by Turkey’s Trabzonspor after qualifying in the first three rounds.

Their last season’s top scorer 24-year-old Sindrit Guri will be playing for Belgian top league side Oostende next season and Kukes have yet to find a decent replacement for him.

Three other Albanian clubs will be fighting their Europa League qualification next Thursday, but chances to make it to the next qualifying round received a severe blow in first-leg games.

Chances are that only Laçi could progress to the next second qualifying round as the only Albanian team that managed to score in the first-leg games. Cyprus’s Anorthosis came from behind to claim a 2-1 home victory, but the Albania club could take advantage of their away goal in the July 19 second-leg home encounter and progress even with a narrow 1-0 home win.

Partizani, a club with much history in Albanian football but who have failed to win the Superliga since the early 1990s, disappointed in their home game with Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful club, suffering a 1-0 home defeat.

Albania’s Europa League debutants Luftetari are almost out following an embarrassing 5-0 away loss against Latvia’s Ventspils.

The most successful Albanian club of the past decade, Skenderbeu have been temporarily suspended from European competition until a final say by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration over their 10-year ban and €1 million fine they received by the European football’s governing body over European and domestic league campaigns in the past few years based on UEFA’s betting fraud detection system.

Skenderbeu are the only Albanian club to have made it to the Europa League group stage, with two appearances in the past three years and have claimed six Superliga titles since 2011.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 18, 2018 11:25