Talent split affecting Albania’s national side, says ex-captain Cana

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 23, 2019 17:59

Talent split affecting Albania’s national side, says ex-captain Cana

Story Highlights

  • “They naturally represent Kosovo and automatically affect the quality of the Albanian national side which I believe has been through a transition period of what we want it to be in the long-run. It’s quite normal that a body gets weaker when half of the blood flowing into it is missing,” says Cana, an internationally renowned former Kosovo-Albanian player

Related Articles

TIRANA, Jan. 23 – Albania’s retired captain Lorik Cana says the difficult moment that Albania has been facing following the major France 2016 appearance is also a result of ethnic Albanian talents having split into two national sides following Kosovo’s recognition by European and world governing football bodies.

“They naturally represent Kosovo and automatically affect the quality of the Albanian national side which I believe has been through a transition period of what we want it to be in the long-run. It’s quite normal that a body gets weaker when half of blood flowing into it is missing,” says Cana, an internationally renowned former Kosovo-Albanian player who played top clubs in Italy and France and led Albania to a first-ever appearance at a major tournament such as the Euro 2016.

Rivalry over acquiring new talents of ethnic Albanian roots has been getting tough in the past couple of years, with some of the best players of Kosovo roots often picking the Kosovo national side.

In August 2016, soon after Kosovo was admitted as a FIFA member, three players of Kosovo roots, among whom Milot Rashica, a current Werder Bremen attacking midfielder at the German Bundesliga, left Albania for Kosovo, marking the first talent row between the two neighboring countries.

Almost half of Albania’s senior national side’s 24 men are of Kosovo-Albanian roots, and there are also players who were born in Switzerland, making them eligible to play for three national sides with Switzerland often coming as the first choice, followed by Albania and Kosovo.

The Xhaka and Ajeti brothers are split between Switzerland and Albania, making them unique in Europe.

Back in mid-2016, Arsenal playmaker and Swiss international Granit Xhaka and his elder Basel and Albanian international player Taulant became Europe’s first two brothers to face each other in a Euro 2016 final group stage fixture when debutant Albania played Switzerland.

Last December, Albania’s under-21s were drawn against Kosovo for the 2021 European Championship qualifiers in the first official encounter between the two neighboring Albanian-speaking countries since Kosovo’s 2016 admission as a UEFA and FIFA member. Both Albania and Kosovo face a tough challenge in a qualifying group that features three tougher rivals such as England, Austria and Turkey and modest Andorra.

Speaking with a Kosovo TV, former Albanian captain Cana says Europe’s newest national side has a golden chance to make it to the finals of Euro 2020 through its Nations League option, having secured a top spot in League D, Group 3 and facing opponents such as Macedonia, Georgia and Belarus if failing to make it through the traditional qualifiers where it needs to secure a top two finish.

Kosovo’s senior national side wrote history in their debut Nations League campaign last year, claiming promotion to League C and standing another chance for qualification to the Euro 2020 final stage, in a major success only few years after being admitted as UEFA and FIFA member following its independence from Serbia a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Albania failed to impress, missing a chance to keep qualifying hopes alive through the inaugural UEFA Nations League by finishing bottom in their League C, Group 1. Having also lost much of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign shine during the past couple of years, Albania will be trying for another miracle qualification in a tough group stage where France are undisputed favorites for a top finish and Iceland, Turkey and Albania will rival for a second spot that also earns direct qualification for the Euro 2020 finals.

The now 35-year-old former defender and midfielder quit international and club football in mid-2016 in premature retirement following health problems, but is remembered as an inspirational captain who led Albania to a major success under former Albania coach, Italian Gianni De Biasi.

Commenting on Albania’s lukewarm performance under coach Christian Panucci, the former Albania captain says the Italian should be given more time until the end of this year when Albania plays the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

“Panucci is a coach with a strong desire to achieve things but not everything has been going well for him. When taking over a team that made it to the final stage of the European championship, it’s too difficult to keep up the high level, especially when a young coach. Panucci now has more information and experience and he will be judged at the end of the qualifiers,” says Cana.

Having been in charge of Albania since mid-2017, under-fire Panucci was given another chance to lead Albania through the Euro 2020 qualifiers despite the national side’s poor track record under his lead, having lost eight out of 14 games since taking over in mid-2017.

Panucci has blamed the situation on key players missing either because of injury or retirement and few playing opportunities with their clubs and has called up several new players as reinforcements, but only a couple of them have convinced.

Cana who now lives in Tirana together with his Italian wife and three-year-old son is attending a sporting director training course with the Albania’s football association, and has hinted he wants to embark on a career discovering new talents that could serve the Albanian national side.

Born in Kosovo, but raised in Switzerland, Cana began his professional career in France with Paris Saint Germain and also played for Marseille, Sunderland and Galatasaray before moving to Italy with Lazio in 2011 where he played four seasons.

He was a regular starter with the national side and much of the success in the Euro 2016 qualifiers is also dedicated to him.

Albania will start their Euro 2020 qualifiers on March 22, 2019 with a home encounter against Turkey, a much more experienced national side, but who have been struggling to qualify for major tournaments during the past decade following a golden period in the 2000s.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 23, 2019 17:59