Albania's World Cup qualifying bid suffers major setback

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 14, 2016 12:05

Albania's World Cup qualifying bid suffers major setback

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  • "We made a poor performance and should have played differently as we faced a very technically tough opponent," coach De Biasi said, indirectly assuming responsibility for the defeat

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Albania's Coach Gianni De Biasi speaking after the match

TIRANA, Nov. 14 - Albania's hopes for a third place and a possible play-off opportunity in the World Cup qualifiers received a severe blow last weekend after a devastating 3-0 home loss against direct rivals Israel who capitalized on their numerical superiority as Albania were left in nine men.

It all started bad for Albania as defender Berat Xhimshiti was shown a straight red card in the 17th minute for a foul in the penalty area, allowing Israel to take an early lead by converting a penalty kick.

Things went from bad to worse in the second half when goalkeeper Etrit Berisha was sent off for a head-butt against an Israeli player in a moment of tension, leaving Albania in 10 men and punishing the national side with another penalty kick, miraculously saved by Partizani goalkeeper Alban Hoxha who replaced Berisha and made his Albania debut.

Playing in 9 men for another 35 minutes and coach De Biasi risking everything for a precious point by fielding  two other strikers who replaced two defenders, Albania conceded another two goals in the remaining minutes with the final result 3-0 in favour of Israel.

Although the referee's decisions to send off two players and award two penalty kicks at the same time were described by football experts as extremely strict, Albania's Italian coach Gianni De Biasi blamed the team's defeat on their poor performance.

"I don't want to deal with the referee. I had warned even before the match that it would be tough. We were punished after the penalty kick, something which changed the fate of the game. After the second red card, I fielded  a striker to reopen the match, but the episodes punished us again. I liked the team more in ten players rather than eleven," De Biasi said.

"We made a poor performance and should have played differently as we faced a very technically tough opponent," De Biasi added, indirectly  assuming responsibility for the defeat.

The match was played under extremely tight security measures with Israeli media citing fears of a possible terrorist attack that moved the match from its initially planned newly reconstructed "Loro Borià§i" stadium in the northern city of Shkodra to the "Elbasan Arena" stadium in central Albania.

With seven other qualifiers to go, Albania now see themselves fourth with 6 points, trailing Israel by 3 points and group leaders Spain and Italy by four points.

Macedonia and Liechtenstein have yet to win their first points.

Although mathematically Albania can still remain hopeful for a miracle second place which would  award them a play-off opportunity, their qualifying bid looks like a mission impossible now as former World Champions Italy and Spain seem unrivaled in the fight for the group's first two places.

Albania were lucky to beat Macedonia with an injury time winner in the opening World Cup qualifying campaign, won 2-0 against modest Liechtenstein in the second qualifier and suffered a 2-0 home defeat against group leaders Spain in their third qualifier last October.

Albania are closing this year's official matches with two consecutive home defeats after a historic first ever participation in a major competition such as Euro 2016, where the national side were unlucky to make it to the knockout stage as one of the best third placed teams, being punished by their -2 goal difference.

The Red & Blacks will travel to Italy on March 14, 2017 to conclude the first round of group matches for the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 14, 2016 12:05