Albania desperately need Scotland win to keep Nations League hopes alive

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 12, 2018 15:50

Albania desperately need Scotland win to keep Nations League hopes alive

TIRANA, Nov. 12 – Albania desperately need to win their final Nations League qualifier against Scotland in order to calm down the situation at the national side following a series of embarrassing losses that have placed Italian coach Christian Panucci under fire ahead of the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The national side host Scotland on Saturday Nov. 17 in their final League C Group 1 qualifier for the inaugural Nations League, a UEFA tournament 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 final qualifier finds Albania rank bottom in their group with only three points from their first three games, level on points with Scotland who rank second on better goal difference but have a game in hand and will be heading for a double-header against Albania and Israel in the next few days.

Israel, who comfortably lead Group 1 with six points following two resurgent home victories against Scotland and Albania last October after losing their opening qualifier away to Albania earlier in September, travel to Scotland on Nov. 20 in a qualifier that will decide the winner of what could end up as a complicated group.

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 in what is a little likely scenario.

However, coach Panucci says the national side will fight for victory against Scotland and hope Albania finish second and eventual group leaders Israel or Scotland directly qualify through the Euro 2020 group stage qualification campaign so that even if Albania fail to directly qualify for the upcoming European championship they could still stand a chance to continue fighting for a spot in their League C Nations League in 2020.

New rules by European football’s governing body, UEFA, allow the top four-ranked League C teams that do not qualify for the Euro 2020 to enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

Finland, Norway and Serbia currently lead the three remaining four-team groups in League C, one of the four leagues where European teams were drawn based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

In case of a miracle top group finish Albania would also have to beat the three other League C group leaders to secure a spot for Euro 2020 championship that will be held in 12 various venues across Europe to mark the 60th anniversary of the tournament.

In case of finishing second and League C Group 1 leaders directly securing their European qualification from the group qualifiers, Albania will be given another chance to continue their qualification for a second ever appearance following their 2016 debut in France.

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

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.

 

Scotland qualifier

Albania and Scotland will both be heading to the Nov. 17 qualifier at the northern Albanian “Loro Boriçi” stadium in the city of Shkodra with some key absences, but Albania desperately looking to avenge their 2-0 away defeat last September in a bid to keep alive their Euro 2020 qualification hopes through an extra option in case of failing to qualify directly.

While some key Albania players will be missing either due to injury or booking, several others have been shining with European clubs in the past month, including Rangers midfielder Eros Grezda who scored a double at the Scottish Premiership this week and last-minute called up playmaker Ergys Kaçe who scored from a spectacular long-range shot that earned his Panathinaikos a precious point at the Greek top league earlier this week.

“We need to win and score as many goals, something which we have been failing. We need to climb to six points and then watch the qualifiers’ draw as a second spot could be much worthy if the teams ranking above us qualify through their groups,” says Panucci.

The Italian coach blames the poor performance on the Nations League campaign on what he calls childish blunders by a ‘deaf’ team he says is not responding to his appeals and having to deal with key injuries such as striker Armando Sadiku and winger Odise Roshi, two key players in the national side’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign success.

“When we don’t score everything gets more complicated for me, the football association and fans,” says Panucci.

Napolli fullback Elseid Hysaj will also be missing for the Scotland qualifier due to yellow card suspension.

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. Some former Albanian internationals and coaches have also questioned his tactics and frequent experiments with new players. However, the 45-year-old Italian 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 under former Italian coach Gianni De Biasi.

 

Group 1, League C                           Played                  Goal Difference               Points

 

Israel                                                          3                                              2                                6

Scotland                                                   2                                              1                                 3

Albania                                                     3                                             -3                                3

 

 

Final Group 1 qualifiers

Albania – Scotland

Nov. 17; 20:45 at Loro Boriçi stadium, Shkoder

 

Scotland – Israel

Nov. 20; 20:45 at Hampden Park, Glasgow

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 12, 2018 15:50