Albania almost out of Nations League after shock defeat to Israel

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 15, 2018 12:40

Story Highlights

  • The final qualifiers next November when Albania play home to Scotland and Israel travel to Scotland will be decisive for the group’s lead and mathematics could play a key role in case both Albania and Scotland win their home matches in a scenario that would see all three teams end up with six points

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Photo: Israel Football Association

TIRANA, Oct. 15 – Albania are almost out of the Nations League following an away loss to Israel and only a mathematical miracle at the closing game with Scotland could see them top their group and keep alive their hopes for a possible qualification to the Euro 2020 through UEFA’s inaugural competition.

Albania lost 2-0 away to Israel on Sunday night in their third Nations League qualifier and with one game remaining are now bottom of League C Group 1 with three points, but Scotland ranking second on better goal difference.

Israel now comfortably lead Group 1 with six points following two resurgent home victories against Scotland and Albania this month after a poor start last September when they lost their opening qualifier away to Albania.

The final qualifiers next November when Albania play home to Scotland and Israel travel to Scotland will be decisive for the group’s lead and mathematics could play a key role in case both Albania and Scotland win their home matches in a scenario that would see all three teams end up with six points.

Albania need to win by at least three goals in their final home qualifier against Scotland on Nov. 17 and hope Scotland beat Israel in their final group encounter on Nov. 20 to possibly qualify through superior goal difference in case all three teams finish on six points.

 

Shock loss to Israel

Albania’s chances of a possible qualification to the Euro 2020 suffered a severe blow as Israel avenged their last September’s 1-0 away defat to Albania with a 2-0 home win to top League C Group 1.

Although dominating in terms of ball possession and shots on target, Albania had nothing in common compared to a World Cup qualifier in mid-2017 when they claimed a surprise 3-0 victory away to Israel to avenge their first-leg qualifier under former coach Gianni De Biasi, the Italian who led Albania to a first ever major tournament such as Euro 2016.

The Israeli game once again unveiled Albania’s defensive problems after a long pass from the Israeli keeper set up their early opening goal in ongoing blunders that have been costing the national side dearly this year.

Albania have lost five out of their seven games this year in a situation that has increased pressure on Italian coach Christian Panucci ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The away qualifier to Israel also revealed attacking problems, with the national side having scored only once in their first three Nations League qualifiers as key attackers and midfielders of the impressive Euro 2016 campaign are missing and newly called up players have so far failed to convince.

Striker Armando Sadiku who scored twice from long-range shots in the away victory against Israel in mid-2017 and midfielder Odise Roshi, a key assist provider, have both been missing in the Nations League qualifiers due to injury.

Coach Christian Panucci whose tactics have been called into question by some former Albanian internationals and coaches admits the Nations League qualifying bid is now over for Albania.

“It is difficult winning 3-0 [against Scotland] and then for Scotland to beat Israel and then be level on points. In the meantime, we are out. We have not surrendered, but losing like this becomes even more difficult,” Panucci told journalists after the match.

A former Italian international with not much coaching experience, Panucci has lost seven out of 12 games since taking over in mid-2017 with the humiliating losses even against opponents of a similar level and his comments about justifying the defeats as “Albania is neither Brazil nor France,” irritating fans. Last June, Panucci was forced to abandon a post-match TV interview after irritated fans chanted ‘We want De Biasi back’ as Albania lost 4-1 against Ukraine, conceding their third consecutive loss following previous warm-up defeats against Norway and Kosovo.

However, Panucci has the apparent support of the football association president Armand Duka who says the coach should be given more time to make the required changes and the Italian is likely to continue leading Albania in the Euro 2020 qualifiers despite the Nations League results.

Albania will also play a home friendly against Wales on Nov. 20 ahead of the next December’s group stage draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with hopes of repeating their the historic first ever European Championship qualification claimed in 2016.

The inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament, largely set to replace friendlies, provides 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.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 15, 2018 12:40