European competition banned Skenderbeu remain Albanian Superliga favorites

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 20, 2018 11:47

European competition banned Skenderbeu remain Albanian Superliga favorites

TIRANA, Sept. 20 – Albania’s reigning champions Skenderbeu have made a good start this season and are favorites to win again despite their future depending on a decision by Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport after they were handed a tough 10-year ban from international competition by UEFA over match-fixing.

With many of their key players having left or retired following budget cuts after the UEFA punishment which Skenderbeu have appealed and are waiting for a final say, the ‘Snow Wolves’ top the Albanian Superliga in the first four weeks, having collected 10 points with a comfortable three point lead over rivals Kukes and Partizani, remaining unbeaten.

Skenderbeu beat title rivals Partizani in their opening campaign in Aug. 17 and recently beat fourth-placed Flamurtari with a comfortable 2-0 away victory.

Skenderbeu are now coached by their former goalkeeper Orges Shehi who claimed seven titles with the Red and Whites before retiring in mid-2018.

The Korça-based club, southeast Albania, play home to Tirana this weekend in a tough encounter featuring clubs that have dominated Albanian football in the past two decades. Newly promoted Tirana, the country’s historically most successful club, have only claimed four points in their first four Superliga games in a situation that has placed their Brazilian coach Ze Maria under fire.

Tirana, who suffered a shock first-ever relegation last season, have claimed the Albanian Superliga a record 24 times and won the Albania Cup 16 times, but have been trophiless in the top flight of Albanian football in the past decade amid financial problems and mismanagement.

Skenderbeu claimed their eighth Superliga trophy last season, with seven of their titles earned during the past decade when they dominated Albanian football and became the first ever Albania club to make it to the Europa League group stage with two appearance in the 2015-16 and 2017-18 campaigns.

The 10-year ban and a €1 million fine handed by European football’s governing body, UEFA, in March 2018 made Skenderbeu ineligible to compete in this season international competition where Albanian clubs failed to make it to the group stage of either the Champions League or Europa League.

UEFA’s disciplinary body handed Skenderbeu the ban over 50 matched the club is suspected to have fixed in the Champions League and Europa League campaigns as well as in the Albanian Superliga and in friendlies since 2011 based on its betting fraud detection system. The new ban follows an earlier 2016-2017 ban from the UEFA Champions League campaign, which the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld following Skenderbeu’s appeal.

Skenderbeu deny claims and are hopeful of overturning the UEFA punishment, the severest ever handed to a European club, but prospects are Skenderbeu could be lucky to get away with a reduction of their 10-year ban.

Kukes who replaced banned Skenderbeu last summer at the Champions League qualifying campaign are the toughest rival for Skenderbeu this season, trailing them by three points. A club with not much history in Albanian football, Kukes have finished second three times in the past six years and claimed a first ever Superliga title in 2017.

Partizani have also made a good start this season, and also trail leaders Skenderbeu by three points, to keep alive their hopes for a long-awaited Superliga title after having been trophiless since the early 1990s.

The Albanian Superliga features 10 teams, two of which are relegated following a four-stage 36-game championship.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 20, 2018 11:47