Two Albania clubs progress to second qualifying rounds

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 20, 2018 12:32

Two Albania clubs progress to second qualifying rounds

Story Highlights

  • The Kukes-Qarabag fixture will also be a small Albanian derby as the Azerbaijani feature former Albania captain, midfielder Ansi Agolli, a key player who has been playing the Azerbaijani champions for the past eight seasons

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TIRANA, July 20 – Kukes and Laçi are the only two Albania clubs that managed to progress to the second qualifying rounds of European competition this week following lackluster performances and rather lucky qualifications on away goals that do not promise much for tougher upcoming opponents.

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. The Albanian Superliga runners-up will now face a much tougher test against the Azerbaijani champions Qarabag, a team that made history in the Azerbaijani football last season when they became the first local club to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage.

The fixture will also be a small Albanian derby as Qarabag features former Albania captain, midfielder Ansi Agolli, a key player who has been playing the Azerbaijani champions for the past eight seasons. A regular starter with Qarabag, the 35-year-old player has been left out of the Albania squad by coach Christian Panucci who has been under fire following three consecutive losses Albania incurred this year in warm-ups ahead of the upcoming Nations League and the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

Kukes will play their first-leg fixture at home on Wednesday, July 25 and travel to Azerbaijan a week later. However, new UEFA rules give the Albanian club a second chance to continue competing at European level by entering the third qualifying round of the less prestigious UEFA Europa League even in case of failing with Qarabag.

Kukes are replacing champions Skenderbeu who are battling a 10-year European competition ban and a €1 million fine handed by UEFA on match fixing at Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. 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.

At the Europa League campaign, Laçi scored a late winner against Cyprus’s Anorthosis on Thursday to claim a 1-0 home victory and become the second Albanian club to qualify for the next round of European competition. Laçi, who managed to qualify only thanks to their away first leg goal in the 2-1 defeat will now face in the second qualifying round Molde, one of the toughest Norwegian sides with much experience at European competition.

In other games, both Partizani and Luftetari failed to impress Slovenia’s Maribor and Latvia’s Ventspils,  and were easily knocked out of the Europa League.

Two other Albanian-owned clubs in Kosovo and Macedonia have also progressed to the second qualifying rounds.

Albania-owned Shkendija based in the majority ethnic Albanian-inhabited town of Tetovo, Macedonia, will face Moldova’s Sheriff at the second qualifying round of the Champions League after beating Wales’s The New Saints in the first qualifying round.

Meanwhile, Kosovo’s Drita will face Luxembourg’s Dudelange at the second qualifying round of the Europa League after being knocked out of the Champions League by Sweden’s Malmo.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 20, 2018 12:32