Morale-boosting win against Wales saves Panucci from early Albania departure

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 21, 2018 10:53

Morale-boosting win against Wales saves Panucci from early Albania departure

Story Highlights

  • The victory also relieved pressure on under-fire Albania coach Panucci whose stay with the national side following the embarrassing defeat by Scotland had become more uncertain

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By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Nov. 21 – Albania claimed a hard-earned victory in a home friendly with Wales on Tuesday night in a morale booster for the national side and under-pressure Italian coach Christian Panucci ahead of the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers following a shock performance at the debut Nations League where they finished bottom but were lucky to escape relegation to League D.

In an almost empty ‘Elbasan Arena’ stadium following a humiliating 4-0 defeat against Scotland few days ago leading to massive fan boycott, Albania performed much better to claim their second win out of nine matches for this year in one of the poorest records in decades.

With some key players making a comeback, Albania controlled much of the second half following a poor start to win against a much tougher national side that ranks among the top 20, some 42 places higher than Albania in the latest FIFA rankings.

Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale also played for about half an hour in the second half after Albania took the lead by converted a penalty kick, but was unable to help his team who squandered several scoring opportunities in the first half.

The victory also relieved pressure on under-fire Albania coach Panucci whose stay with the national side following the embarrassing defeat by Scotland had become more uncertain. The Italian whose Albania contract expires in November 2019 when the Euro qualifiers finish now seems will be given another chance to continue leading Albania although having missed a chance to keep qualification hopes alive through the debut Nations League in case of failing to make it through the traditional format.

"I am aware that the guys support me. I would have already left if I didn't have their support," Panucci said after the Wales match.

Pressure on the 45-year-old Italian had been mounting following a series of poor performances, having lost eight out of 14 games since taking over in mid-2017 and the football association was reportedly considering a premature cancellation of the contract with Panucci and looking for a replacement ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The mounting pressure comes as expectations for the national side have significantly increased following the historic 2016 qualification to a major competition such as the European championship in France under former coach Gianni De Biasi.

However, key players of the De Biasi era have been missing either due to having retiring, suffering injuries or no longer being a first choice due to few playing opportunities with their clubs and a new generation of players is replacing them in a transition period for the Albanian national side who during the past couple of years have been lacking the shine of the Euro 2016 campaign.

Albania collected only a home victory against Israel and were lucky not to be relegated to League D for the for the next 2020-21 UEFA Nations League as the lowest ranked third-placed team in League C thanks to the UEFA regulation not counting results against fourth-placed finishers in the three other four-team League C groups.

Chances for Albania to make it to the Euro 2020 are only through the traditional format of the upcoming qualifiers where they need to secure a top two finish in order to repeat their 2016 historic first ever qualification to a major tournament.

The upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers are set to begin in March 2019 after ten groups are drawn in December 2018.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 21, 2018 10:53