World Cup campaign: Albania avenge Israel with stunning 3-0 away victory

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 12, 2017 10:13

World Cup campaign: Albania avenge Israel with stunning 3-0 away victory

By Ervin Lisaku

Albanian players celebrate after the victory with Israel. Photo: Albanian Football Association

Albanian players celebrate after the victory with Israel. Photo: Albanian Football Association

TIRANA, June 12 - Albania avenged Israel with an unexpected 3-0 away victory, ending a five-game losing streak and climbing to third in Group G of the World Cup qualifiers for the Russia 2018.

Lugano striker Armando Sadiku was Albania's hero with a spectacular first-half double from two long-range shots while playmaker Ledian Memushaj scored his first national side goal to make it 3-0 after a perfect team move.

Down to nine men, Albania lost 3-0 in their home qualifier against Israel last November in an inaugural match played under extremely tight security measures over fears of a possible terrorist attack, irritating the Red & Black fans who have since boycotted the national side's matches, claiming unfair treatment by police forces.

The away victory now temporary places Albania third in Group G of the qualifiers with 9 points, leading Israel on goal difference in a tough group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain who seem unrivalled in the top two finish.

Group leaders Spain and Italy got easy wins over Macedonia and Liechtenstein on Sunday night and have a seven-point lead over Albania and Israel.

With four other games to go, Albania's chances of making it to the top two finish are almost zero, but the national side is now back in the fight for a third place finish, a position that secures neither direct qualification, nor play-off  opportunities, but can help improve the team's seeding ahead of the Euro 2020 qualification draw.

The away victory also put an end to an embarrassing 5-game losing streak the national side had not experienced in more than a decade with an impressive win that reminded fans of Albania's Euro 2016 qualification campaign. Albania directly qualified against all odds as the second best team in the Euro 2016 campaign in a tough group stage that also featured eventual Euro 2016 winners Portugal as well as Denmark and Serbia, making its debut appearance at a major tournament.

The Red & Blacks were unlucky to make it to the knockout stage of the Euro 2016 as one of the best third-placed sides, punished by their goal difference. The national side lost to hosts France and Switzerland but beat Romania 1-0 in their group stage, in impressive performances that led to a heroes' welcome upon their arrival in Tirana.

Albania's free fall began last October when the national side was beaten by group leaders Spain, before suffering another two defeats against Israel and Italy and losing its two friendlies against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Luxembourg in the past couple of months.

The away victory against Israel also brought much-needed relief for Italian coach Gianni De Biasi who has been leading Albania for the past five years and is regarded as a hero for taking Albania to a first-ever major tournament.

The 60-year-old coach had recently come under fire for the team poor performance and there were rumors he could prematurely leave the national side in case of a new defeat by Israel.

"I wanted this victory, this is a team victory by a team who did what they had to and what they did most of the time under my lead. The team showed the same qualities they displayed in the Euro campaign. I am angry as we could have scored another goal," said the former Torino and Udinese boss.

"We showed we were superior to Israel in all aspects," said De Biasi, recalling how Albania was punished by both the referee and its own mistakes in the home qualifier against Israel last November when Albania had two players sent off.

"I know we can lose against Spain and Italy but we can play as equal with others," he added.

Striker Armando Sadiku said he was happy for Albania's comeback and having helped the team with his brace.

"All players were looking forward to do their best. We are happy we 'avenged' Israel. I am happy I scored a brace which I dedicate to all Albanians wherever they are," said Sadiku.

The 26-year-old striker had a wonderful second-half season with Lugano in the Swiss top league which he helped climb from the relegation zone to achieve a third-place and Europa League qualification.

Having scored nine goals with the national side, including one in the first-ever European championship appearance against Romania at the Euro 2016, Sadiku has been a reference point in Albania's attack in the past couple of years.

Albania's victory was also echoed by Israeli media which described the loss against Albania as "crushing and demoralising."

"The small contingent of Albania fans was louder from the 15,000 locals from the start and was given something to celebrate in the 22nd minute," wrote the Jerusalem Post.

The Albanian national side will play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing Macedonia three days later. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.

Albania's national side features players in the Italian, German, Swiss, Turkish and U.S top leagues with Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj, Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, Hamburger center back Mergim Mavraj, Istanbul Basaksehir striker Sokol Cikalleshi and Lugano forward Armando Sadiku as some of the most prominent.


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 12, 2017 10:13