Albania claim historic victory to keep their Euro qualifying hopes alive

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 30, 2015 09:04
Mergim Mavraj (center) scored the first goal.

Mergim Mavraj (front) scored the first goal.

By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, March 30 - Albania kept alive their Euro 2016 qualifying hopes after a spectacular win home to Armenia as they came from behind an early goal to claim a 2-1 victory.

It all started badly for Albania as they conceived an early goal in the fourth minute and squandered lots of scoring opportunities with Split forward Cikalleshi also hitting the post. The turning point came in the 70th minute when Armenia had one man sent off and Albania made full use of its numerical advantage with two winning headers by Koln defender Mavraj and Basel midfielder Gashi who came in as a substitute in the second half.

The Sunday evening victory against Armenia has strengthened Albania's position in Group I with the Red and Blacks now ranking third with seven points in four matches level on points with second-placed Denmark which holds an advantage on goal difference.

Portugal which beat Serbia 2-1 have taken the lead of the group with nine points, having lost only home to Albania in their first four qualifying matches.

Serbia and Armenia rank bottom in the five-team Group I having collected only one point each in their first round of matches.

Italian coach Gianni de Biasi, who just a couple of days before the decisive qualifier was granted the Albanian citizenship, described the victory as historic.

"It was a historic victory for Albania and the most important match of my career but now its over. We did a good job. The next qualifier against Denmark will be the match of my life," he told reporters.

Armenia's Swiss coach Bernard Challandes said his team had a chance to win until the 70th minute when one of their defenders was sent off with a second yellow card.

"We had a very good first half, we scored and we were playing well, but in the second half, Albania were better than us. I told my team at the break that we had to score again to win the match," he was quoted as saying by UEFA.

Celebrations over the victory against Armenia continued until the early hours of Monday in Elbasan where the match was played and all over Albania, but also Kosovo, Macedonia, the Presevo Valley and the Diaspora.

Prime Minister Edi Rama who encouraged Albania as they were one goal behind in several tweets congratulated the national side and the newest Albanian citizen, coach De Biasi.

Football experts say Albania, whose players play in prestigious leagues including Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, stands a real chance to qualify for the France Euro 2016 after historically finishing bottom and second from bottom in previous Euro and World Cup qualifying stages.

The top two group teams and the best third-placed side qualify directly for the final tournament of the Euro 2016. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers.

Albania’s next qualifier will be away to Denmark in September 4 before hosting Portugal three days later.


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 30, 2015 09:04