Albania hopes for U-turn at Nations League games against Israel, Scotland

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 20, 2018 17:13

Albania hopes for U-turn at Nations League games against Israel, Scotland

TIRANA, Aug. 20 – Albania will take on Israel on their debut UEFA Nations League campaign in a home encounter that is expected to be held under tight security measures following incidents in a late 2016 World Cup qualifier in a game which could prove decisive for a turning point in the national side following three consecutive warm-up losses this year.

Albania play Israel on Sept. 7 in their opening Nations League campaign, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but also plays a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

The home encounter at Elbasan Arena stadium is expected to be held under tight security measures following a planned terrorist attack successfully foiled ahead of the Nov. 2016 World Cup qualifier, later held peacefully.

A coordinated regional counter terrorism operation led to the arrests of four Albanians, disrupting a potential stadium attack that would have had severe consequences, in the first operation that unveiled Albania is not immune to terrorism.

Albania lost the home qualifier 3-0 but avenged the defeat with a surprise 3-0 away victory in the second leg encounter and finished third in Group G, one point ahead of fourth-placed Israel, in a tough qualifying campaign dominated by former world champions Spain and Italy.

Albania take to the Israeli encounter without two of its key players, striker Armando Sadiku who is recovering following knee injury and right winger Odise Roshi who also suffered recent injury at the Russian championship that will apparently leave him out of the first two qualifiers against Israel and Scotland. Both players had a key impact in the 3-0 away victory to Israel with Sadiku scoring a double and Roshi setting up a goal.

Several key players of the golden De Biasi era when Albania made their first ever European championship appearance are also facing problems with finding teams such as former Hamburger defender Mergim Mavraj, while others have been sidelined by their clubs some of which were relegated last season. The situation has triggered compulsory changes at the national side under coach Christian Panucci who has been in charge of Albania for one year now but failed to impress.

Albania takes on Israel following three disappointing warm-up losses against Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine, unveiling a series of problems in Albania’s line-up at a time when new players called up by Panucci have not met expectations.

Israel also take on Albania after appointing Austrian Andreas Herzog in early August after almost a year without a coach and having played only a home friendly against Romania for this year which they lost 1-2.

Albania travel to Scotland on Sept. 10, three days after playing Israel, to conclude their first-leg Nations League fixtures in Group 1 of League C, the only group featuring three teams, with the remaining three league groups showcasing four teams.

Scotland, a team which Albania has never faced before is the toughest team in the group, with a lot of experience in World Cup and European tournaments, but having failed to reach a major finals since the 1998 World Cup.

The second leg games will be away to Israel on Oct. 14 and at home to Scotland on Nov. 17.

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.

The upcoming four Nations League games and two friendlies in the next few months could also prove decisive for coach Panucci, a 45-year-old former AC Milan and Real Madrid defender with not much coaching experience who has yet to convince at the helm of the national side and prove a decent replacement for De Biasi.

The 45-year-old Italian with not much coaching experience has lost five out of his eight games with Albania since taking over in mid-2017 including World Cup qualifiers against Spain and Italy and friendlies with Norway, Kosovo and Ukraine, putting him under fire.

Panucci managed to win with modest Liechtenstein and draw with Macedonia in World Cup qualifiers.

His best game in Albania’s lead was last November when the national side surprised Turkey with an away 3-2 victory as they played in 10 men for most of the time.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 20, 2018 17:13