Key De Biasi era players left out for Albania’s upcoming friendlies

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 23, 2018 17:47

Key De Biasi era players left out for Albania’s upcoming friendlies

TIRANA, May 23 – Albania is heading to the Kosovo and Ukraine friendlies with several key changes in their 24-man squad, heralding a new era following the national side historic 2016 appearance under former Albania coach Gianni De Biasi.

Coach Christian Panucci has left out ten key players of Albania’s Euro 2016 campaign either because of being sidelined by their European clubs for most of the season, injuries or already about to turn 36.

Striker Armando Sadiku, who this season tried two unsuccessful adventures in Poland and Spain, is among the players who have not been called up.

Things for 27-year forward who has been Albania's top scorer in the past six years have gone from bad to worse this season after he left Switzerland in mid-2017 to first play for Poland's Legia Warsaw before joining Spain's Levante in a surprise move last January.

Sadiku played 24 games for Legia but scored only seven goals, and has yet to score with Levante who escaped relegation in the Spanish top league, having managed to make only five appearances for the second half of the season.

The 26-year-old striker has scored 11 goals in 29 appearances with the national side helping Albania achieve a first-ever qualification in a major tournament such as Euro 2016. He also scored Albania’s sole goal in the Euro 2016 group stage games as Albania beat Romania 1-0 but failed to make it the knockout stage.

Coach Panucci has opted to test new Albanian Superliga talents for the offensive line and called up 21-year-old striker Kristal Abazaj and 24-year-old forward Sindrit Guri, both of whom will be playing for Belgian top league clubs Anderlecht and Oostende next season.

Ledian Memushaj has also been left out after a disappointing second half of the season with his Benevento club who were relegated from Italy’s Serie A.

Basel midfielder Taulant Xhaka has been left out because of an injury while former Albania captain Ansi Agolli who claimed his fifth Championship in row with Azerbaijan's Qarabag and made it to UEFA Champions League group stage is confirmed as no longer being part of Panucci's Nations League and Euro 2020 campaigns as he turns 36 this year.

Meanwhile, defender Mergim Mavraj has received a surprise call despite being sidelined by Hamburg for most of the season as the German Bundesliga club suffered their first ever relegation.

Egzon Binaku, a Sweden-born player of Kosovo-Albanian origin, is the surprise name on Panucci's list. Having previously played for Sweden's U-21,   the 22-year old plays as a defender for Sweden's Malmo and is considered a promising player to team up with Albania’s Seria A goalkeepers, Lazio's Thomas Strakosha or Atalanta's Etrit Berisha as well as Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj.

For coach Christian Panucci, the upcoming two friendlies will be a key test ahead of next September's Nations League campaign start.

"I understand the players have had a tiring season and done their best but they still have to do the best for the national side at the end of this season as there are no jokes with the national side," Panucci said earlier this month as he was watching Albanian Superliga talents.

"We are shaping the group. After the defeat against Norway I learned that we have to change something with a focus on the playing style," Panucci said.

Albania look far from the impressive form of the Euro 2016 campaign this year after making a poor start as they lost a home friendly against Norway, producing one of their worst performances in the past few years.

The national side will be training in Switzerland for about ten days in late May and will initially take on Kosovo on May 29 in what will be a small derby of Albanian roots as half of Albania’s national side players are of Kosovo-Albanian origin.

Albania’s second friendly will be on June 3 against Ukraine, a much tougher national side whom Albania have only managed to get a draw and lost four times in World Cup qualifiers and friendlies in the past two decades.

The two friendlies are considered key ahead of next September's start of the Nations League campaign against Israel and Scotland.

The inaugural UEFA tournament largely replaces friendlies but will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

Albania will also play two home friendlies against Wales and Jordan next October and November during the ‘free’ international match days of the Nations League competition.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 23, 2018 17:47