Albania held to goalless draw by Jordan ahead of Israel qualifier

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 11, 2018 11:14

Albania held to goalless draw by Jordan ahead of Israel qualifier

TIRANA, Oct. 11 – Albania were held to a goalless home draw in a warm-up against Jordan on Wednesday night ahead of their second-leg Nations League qualifier away to Israel in what is expected to be a decisive game to keep alive their qualification hopes.

Albania squandered a handful of scoring opportunities against Jordan, a team that ranks 110th at the FIFA men's ranking compared to Albania's 57th out of 210, in ongoing lackluster performances for this year, having lost four out of their six games in a situation that has placed Italian coach Christian Panucci under fire ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Panucci rested some key players, including Napoli fullback Elseid Hysaj and two veteran midfielders, to give an opportunity to newly called-up players, including winger Myrto Uzuni who this season moved to Croatia's Lokomotiva Zagreb from the Albanian Superliga. The 23-year attacker was fielded in the second half to make his national side debut and went close to scoring in the 85th minute when he hit the post from close range.

The Albania coach and football association president described the game as positive and optimistic for Albania's upcoming qualifier away to Israel on Oct. 14.

Albania take to Israel after having beaten Israel 1-0 in their opening Nations League campaign and suffering a 2-0 defeat away to Scotland in two September qualifiers that showed Albania has a lot to improve, especially when it comes to defence whose blunders have been costing Albania dearly this year.

Israel host Scotland on Thursday, Oct. 11 before taking on Albania on Sunday Oct. 14 in a make-or-break double-header in Group C1 of the Nations League, an inaugural UEFA competition that largely replaces friendlies but also plays a major part for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

Albania takes to Israel amid a rather tense situation surrounding the national side and Italian coach Christian Panucci who has justified losses even against opponents of a similar level by saying "Albania is neither Brazil nor France," triggering criticism by football pundits and fans.

A former Italian international with not much coaching experience, Panucci has lost six out of 11 games since taking over in mid-2017 with some former Albanian internationals and coaches questioning his tactics. However, Panucci has the apparent support of the football association president Armand Duka who says the coach should be given more time to make the required changes and the Italian is likely to continue leading Albania in the Euro 2020 qualifiers despite the Nations League results.

With some of the key players of the former De Biasi era who managed to qualify Albania for a first ever European championship in 2016 either having retired, missing because of injuries or not receiving a call-up because of having been sidelined by their clubs, Albania has lost much of its Euro 2016 campaign shine, placing coach Panucci under pressure due to new players having so far failed to prove decent replacements.

Nations League campaign

 

With two other second-leg games remaining, Albania now rank second in Group 1 of League C with three points, trailing Scotland who lead on goal difference and have a game in hand.

Albania conclude their group stage Nations League qualifiers on Nov. 17 with a home game against Scotland that could prove decisive for the group's lead and further progress with group leaders of League C with Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria as the toughest sides that Albania could face.

Albania will also play a home friendly against Wales on Nov. 20 ahead of the next December's group stage draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with hopes of repeating their the historic first ever European Championship qualification claimed in 2016.

The inaugural UEFA Nations League tournament, largely set to replace friendlies, will provide teams with another chance to qualify for the UEFA EURO final tournament, with four sides from each league qualifying through play-off matches which take place in March 2020.

The top four-ranked League C teams that do not qualify for the Euro 2020 will enter play-offs in March 2020, with one finals place on offer.

The Euro 2020 qualifying campaign is scheduled to begin in March 2019 after ten groups are drawn in December 2018.

Chances for Albania and other contenders to make it EURO 2020 in case of failing to qualify directly as the top two group stage teams in the qualification campaign, are only through the Nations League tournament as the third-placed team is no longer provided a play-off opportunity.

Chances increase as if a UEFA Nations League group winner has already qualified via the European Qualifiers, then their spot will go to the next best-ranked team in their league.

 

Israel - Albania

Sunday, Oct. 14; 20:45

Turner Stadium, Be'er Sheva

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 11, 2018 11:14