Nations League: Albania face Scotland after opening hard-earned win over Israel

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 10, 2018 13:10

Nations League: Albania face Scotland after opening hard-earned win over Israel

Story Highlights

  • The narrow 1-0 victory against Israel showed Albania has a lot to improve, especially when it comes to defense as the national side were lucky to overcome some blunders that could have punished them had it not been for Italian Serie A goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha who made a handful of decisive saves

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TIRANA, Sept. 10 – Albania take on Scotland tonight in their second Nations League encounter following a hard-earned 1-0 home win against Israel last weekend in their opening competition game.

The Red & Black will be facing Scotland on Monday, Sept. 10 for the first time, seeking a second consecutive win to remain on top of Group 1 of League C and keep alive their hopes for a possible qualification through an inaugural competition that largely replaces friendlies but also plays a major part for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

The winning start against Israel marked a turning point for the Albanian national side and under-fire coach Christian Panucci following three consecutive warm-up losses this year ahead of the Nations League opening game against Israel on Sept. 7.

The narrow 1-0 victory against Israel showed Albania has a lot to improve, especially when it comes to defense as the national side were lucky to overcome some blunders that could have punished them had it not been for Italian Serie A goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha who made a handful of decisive saves.

Midfielder Taulant Xhaka, whose younger brother Arsenal playmaker Granit Xhaka plays for the Swiss national side, scored the winner from a shot just out of the box in the 55th minute.  Having Kosovo-Albanian roots, the Xhaka brothers are unique in Europe after becoming the first brothers to face each other for different sides in 2016 when Albania played Switzerland in their European Championship debut in 2016.

Panucci, who saw pressure on him ease following the winning start, is now hoping for a second consecutive victory against Scotland, a team which Albania has never faced before but with a lot of experience in World Cup and European tournaments, although having failed to reach a major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

Hopes for a positive result have increased as Scotland were thrashed 4-0 in their home friendly against World Cup semi-finalists Belgium last weekend as they suffered their fifth defeat in their past six friendlies.

A 44-year former Italian international and ex AC Milan and Real Madrid defender, Panucci is well-known in Scotland, where he is hoping to repeat his 2007 success with Italy, this time as a young coach.

Eleven years ago, Panucci’s injury-time away header qualified Italy for the Euro 2008, putting an end to the Scots’ dream of making it to the European championship.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the Scotland encounter, Panucci said he would play to win against an opponent who has been ‘wounded’ in the home defeat against Belgium.

“We will do our best to win. We are aware of our flaws. We face a ‘wounded’ opponent who lost in the friendly against Belgium. We play in a tough environment but we will definitely not play for a draw,” Panucci said.

Albania’s second leg Nations League games will be away to Israel on Oct. 14 and at home to Scotland on Nov. 17.

 

Nations League campaign

The inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament, largely set to replace friendlies, will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament, with four sides from each league qualifying through play-off matches which take place in March 2020.

Based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the European football’s governing body has placed Albania in League C mostly featuring South-East Europe national sides with Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria as the toughest sides that Albania could face for the League C winner and a place in the Euro 2020 in case it tops its own Group 1.

The top four-ranked League C teams that do not qualify for UEFA EURO 2020 will enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

Chances for Albania and other contenders to make it EURO 2020 in case of failing to qualify directly as the top two group stage teams in the qualification campaign, are only through the Nations League tournament as the third-placed team is no longer provided a play-off opportunity.

Chances increase as if a UEFA Nations League group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league.

The Euro 2020 qualifying campaign is scheduled to begin in March 2019 after ten groups are drawn in December 2018.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 10, 2018 13:10