Albania play Turkey in friendly test ahead of Nations League, Euro 2020 qualifiers

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 13, 2017 12:02

Albania play Turkey in friendly test ahead of Nations League, Euro 2020 qualifiers

Tirana, Nov. 13 - Albania will play away to Turkey tonight in a friendly that is seen as a test for the national side and coach Christian Pannuci as the Red & Blacks prepare for their Euro 2020 bid.

The Turkey friendly is the first the national side is playing after concluding their World Cup qualifying campaign last October when the national side finished third in a tough group stage that also featured former world champions Spain and Italy.

Coach Pannuci has called up two new players for the friendly, bringing the number of new players joining the national side to six since he took over as Albania’s coach in mid-2017 and heralding a new era after the departure of his compatriot Gianni De Biasi who led Albania to a first ever major competition debut such as Euro 2016 during his five-year spell.

The 44-year-old former AC Milan, Real Madrid and Roma defender with not much coaching experience has called up two Kosovo born-players for the Turkey friendly, 27-year-old AEK Athens attacking midfielder Astrit Ajdarevic and 21-year-old defensive midfielder Ylber Ramadani who plays Vejle Boldklub in the Danish First Division.

Pannuci had earlier called up Emanuele Ndoj, a much promising Italy-born and raised 20-year-old central midfielder playing Brescia in Italy’s Serie B and Macedonia-born Valon Ahmedi, an attacking midfielder for Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful club, who are yet to make their Albania debut.

Spain-born defender of Albanian origin Ivan Balliu and Albania-born Italy-raised left back Hysen Memolla who plays for Croatia’s Hajduk Split made their unsuccessful national side debut last October against Spain when they were replaced from the beginning of the second half as Albania was thrashed 3-0 in 27 minutes.

"We will continue to look for new players to strengthen our team. We are working to have a solid group for the next European qualifiers," Pannuci has said.

Coach Christian Pannuci was set a Euro 2020 qualification task as he succeeded Italian compatriot Gianni De Biasi in mid-2017 and led the national side in their last four World Cup qualifiers.

Under his lead, Albania easily beat modest Liechtenstein, got a hard-earned draw against Macedonia, but was thrashed 3-0 by group leaders Spain and narrowly lost 1-0 in the final home qualifier with Italy to finish third in the Group G of the qualifiers.

Two of Albania's best players, Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj and Legia Warsaw striker Armando Sadiku have described the friendly with Turkey as a fixture that helps the team to get consolidated and the newcomers to familiarize.

Turkey, who also failed to make it to the World Cup, have been facing tough times under Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu, having won only one out of last five games since last August.

Albania and Turkey have played each other three times before with Albania winning one friendly away to Turkey in 2001 and Turkey claiming two World Cup qualifier victories in 2005.

The Turkey friendly is one of the few Albania can play ahead of the late 2018 maiden UEFA Nations League and the European qualifiers.

Albania has been lined up in League C of the maiden UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

In a four-league competition based on coefficient rankings after the group stages of the European qualifiers for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the European football’s governing body has placed Albania in League C mostly featuring South-East Europe national sides with Serbia and Greece as the toughest sides.


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 13, 2017 12:02