Albania's Skenderbeu one step away from repeating Europa League history

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 18, 2017 12:06

Albania's Skenderbeu one step away from repeating Europa League history

Story Highlights

  • Skenderbeu were really unlucky on Thursday night's encounter as they were initially denied a legitimate goal for an offside by Liridon Latifi before the Kosovo playmaker gave Skenderbeu the lead in the 37th minute.

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By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Aug. 18 - Albania's Skenderbeu are only one step away from repeating history in the UEFA Europa League after being held to a dramatic draw by Croatia's Dinamo Zagreb in the first-leg away fixture of the play-off tie.

Skenderbeu were really unlucky on Thursday night's encounter as they were initially denied a legitimate goal for an offside by Liridon Latifi before the Kosovo playmaker gave Skenderbeu the lead in the 37th minute.

When everything seemed to end in Skenderbeu's favour, the Croatians with much more experience in European competition, scored an injury-time equalizer after dominating the game's second half.

Skenderbeu will now have to wait for the second-leg August 24 home encounter with Dinamo Zagreb to learn if they will repeat history by making a second appearance at the Europa League group stage.

The second-leg play-off is also a chance for Skenderbeu to avenge Dinamo Zagreb who denied them a historic Champions League debut in the 2015-2016 qualifying campaigns.

The Croatian side beat Skenderbeu 6-2 on aggregate in the 2015 Champions League play-off, but Skenderbeu were still able to automatically make it to the less prestigious Europa League group stage.

Skenderbeu coach Ilir Daja described the draw as a big step for the 'Snow Wolves.'

"That was a great result for us, you will see another Skenderbeu in the second-leg qualifier in Elbasan, we expect huge support from fans," said Daja.

Dinamo Zagreb coach Mario Cvitanović said the Croatians "will go to Albania to win and do their best to achieve it."

Croatia's most successful club, Dinamo Zagreb beat Skenderbeu 4-1 at home before also wining 2-1 in Albania in the 2015 Champions League play-off.

Skenderbeu progressed to the UEFA Europa League play-offs as they eliminated Czech Republic's Mladà¡ Boleslav in a penalty shootout. They earlier beat Kazakhstan's Kairat Almaty and modest Andorran side Sant Julia in the first and second Europa League qualifying rounds.

Skenderbeu return to European competition after a one-year ban imposed by European football governing body, UEFA, on match-fixing allegations in the 2015-2016 Champions and Europa League campaigns.

Last June, Albania's football association also stripped the 'Snow Wolves' of their 2015-2016 Superliga title on match fixing allegations, cutting their six straight titles to five. The club have denied any wrongdoing.

Skenderbeu have been dominating Albanian football in the past decade which has recently become more competitive with minnows Kukes winning their first ever championship title in the past season and Partizani advised by former Juventus managing director Italian Lucciano Moggi and coach Mark Iuliano seeking a comeback in the upcoming season after more than two decades of trophyless seasons.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 18, 2017 12:06