Albania to face Liechtenstein, Spain in next World Cup qualifiers

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 28, 2016 13:54
Albania celebrate after beating Macedonia 2-1  with a late header in their opening World Cup qualifier

Albania celebrate after beating Macedonia 2-1 with a late header in their opening World Cup qualifier

TIRANA, Sept. 28 - Albania will face two key Russia 2018 qualifiers against modest Liechtenstein and 2010 World Champions Spain that could prove decisive for its group stage progress after the country's historic first ever appearance in a major tournament such as France 2016.

Albania will travel to Liechtenstein on Oct. 6 in what is expected to be an easy test for the Red & Blacks after Lichtenstein were thrashed 8-0 by Spain in the opening qualifier in early September. The two teams have only faced each other once in a 2008 friendly which Albania won 2-0 but this time the national side will have to score as many goals as possible in order to keep its goal difference on track to group favorites Spain and Italy.

Albania's key challenge will be three days later on Oct. 9 at home against Spain which has beaten Albania in all previous five encounters in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Spain have lost some of their shine after claiming the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European championship but are still group favourites along with Italy, the four times World Champions, most recently in 2006.

Albania's Italian coach Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to historic first ever appearance at a major tournament is realistic when it comes to Albania's chances to qualify for Russia 2018 saying that Albania's chances are a mere 10 percent.

"Spain stands a 50 percent chance to qualify, Italy has 40 percent of chances and we have 10 percent. Maybe it's too much but I'm confident. Never say never. I love mission impossibles. A couple of years ago only a mad one would have predicted Albania to make it to the European championship," De Biasi has said.

Albania currently rank third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers with three points, on par to Spain and Italy who scored more in their opening qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Israel.

A late header by Bekim Balaj gave Albania a precious home victory against neighboring Macedonia in their opening World Cup qualification campaign in early September as the teams played a remaining 14 minutes hours later after the match was initially abandoned   due to torrential rain with the game level at 1-1.

The opening qualifier against Macedonia showed Albania has to improve a lot especially in the defensive section after the departure of captain Lorik Cana from international football.

The Red & Blacks will play at home to Israel on November 12 and travel to Italy on March 14, 2017 in the first round of group matches.

Albania's coach Gianni de Biasi has described the draw as very difficult for Albania, which although against all odds, will fight to the end as it did in the last Euro qualifiers with a surprise direct qualification as the second best team in a group which also featured the now European champions Portugal, Denmark and Serbia.

Differently from the Euro qualifiers where the top two group teams qualified directly and the third-placed teams were given a play-off chance, the road to Russia World Cup for European national sides is much tougher with only the nine group winners directly qualifying and the 8 best group runners-up contesting in a play-off round.

Last June, Albania ended their historic debut in a major football tournament in a dramatic disqualification filled with suspense after the national side was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage of the Euro 2016 as one of the four best third-placed teams. Albania, who collected three points in their group stage fixtures following a victory with Romania and losses against hosts France and Switzerland, were punished by their -2 goal difference.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 28, 2016 13:54