Albania target Euro 2020 finals through second spot finish in tough qualifying group

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 3, 2018 13:07

Albania target Euro 2020 finals through second spot finish in tough qualifying group

Story Highlights

  • Former Albania coach Gianni De Biasi who led the national side to the finals of France 2016, the national side's first ever appearance to a major tournament, says Albania stands real chances to claim another qualification

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By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Dec. 3 – Albania have been drawn in a tough Euro 2020 qualifying campaign group stage with reigning world champions France and will apparently be fighting for a second spot with Iceland and Turkey in a bid to repeat their 2016 success when they earned a first ever qualification to the finals of a major tournament.

Having missed a chance to keep qualifying hopes alive through the inaugural UEFA Nations League by finishing bottom in their League C, Group 1, and having also lost much of their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign shine during the past couple of years, Albania will be trying for another miracle qualification in a tough group stage where France are undisputed favorites for a top finish and Iceland, Turkey and Albania will rival for a second spot that also earns direct qualification for the Euro 2020 finals.

Moldova and Andorra are also featured in Group H of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign that will be held over ten matchdays from March to November 2019 with Albania playing the first qualifier at home to Turkey, a much more experienced national side, but which has been struggling to qualify for major tournaments during the past decade following a golden period in the 2000s. Albania last played Turkey in a friendly in late 2017 to claim a surprise 3-2 away victory. Both teams are equal on their 10 encounters so far with each having claimed four wins and drawn twice since the early 1970s.

Iceland will be another tough opponent for Albania in their bid for a second spot finish having become the smallest nation by population to qualify for the Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup finals, but disappointing in their Nations League campaign this year, finishing bottom and failing to claim any points in encounters with Switzerland and Belgium.

Albania and Iceland have played each other five times since the early 1990s with the tiny Island of 340,000 residents having claimed three victories compared to two for Albania. Iceland beat Albania 2-1 both on home soil and away in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers to finish second in the group stage, but lost to Croatia in the playoffs and failed to reach their first major finals.

Albania also made it to the Euro 2016 finals in their first ever appearance at a major tournament in a tough group stage with Portugal, the reigning European champions, Denmark and Serbia, finishing second to earn direct qualification.

Albania ended their historic debut in a major football tournament in a dramatic disqualification filled with suspense after the national side was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage of the Euro 2016 as one of the four best third-placed teams.

Albania, who collected three points in their group stage fixtures following a victory with Romania and losses against hosts France and Switzerland were punished by their -2 goal difference.

However, Albania disappointed in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign finishing third in a tough group stage where it couldn't do much against former world and European champions Spain and Italy, the latter also failing to qualify for the first time in six decades at the finals of a World Cup after losing a playoff with Sweden.

The national side's disappointment continued in the Nations League campaign with Albania collecting only a home victory with Israel and finishing bottom in a group stage topped by Scotland who will be given another chance for the Euro 2020 should they fail to qualify through the traditional format.

The poor performances nearly led to the dismissal of Albania's Italian coach Christian Panucci, who has been in charge since mid-2017 succeeding compatriot Gianni De Biasi, but has lost eight out of 14 games since taking over in one of Albania's poorest ever performance which the coach has justified with key absences and a new generation of players replacing former veterans of the Euro 2016 campaign.

 

Reactions at home

Speaking after the draw, coach Christian Panucci described reigning world champions France as the absolute favorites and said Albania will be fighting for a second spot with Turkey and Island.

"The draw could have been better or worse, but we will work to achieve the impossible. France are the favorites. I see Albania fighting for a second spot with Turkey and Iceland," said the 45-year coach who has been under continuous pressure this year following a series of lackluster performances.

Albania recently got a morale-boosting win against Wales following a humiliating 4-0 home defeat against Scotland earlier in November to relive pressure on Panucci, a former Italian international who played for top European clubs, but had little coaching experience when taking over as Albania coach.

Former Albania coach Gianni De Biasi who led the national side to the finals of France 2016, the national side's first ever appearance to a major tournament, says Albania stands real chances to claim another qualification.

"Albania should believe in the second spot and in qualification. In the Euro 2016 campaign, Portugal had the stature of present-day France but Serbia and Denmark are not like Iceland and Turkey with all due respect [for the latter],” says De Biasi.

“I believe Albania will rival through the end for a second spot with Island and Turkey," De Biasi, mostly jobless since leaving Albania has told local media.

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.

 

Kosovo’s campaign

Having claimed a surprise but convincing Nations League promotion in their League D, Group 3, Kosovo will also be playing in a tough qualifying campaign with England, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and Montenegro in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

One of the world’s youngest national sides, having been admitted as UEFA and FIFA member only in 2016, Kosovo claimed historic success at the Nations League campaign, topping their group and standing another chance to qualify as one of its league’s best teams even in case of failing a top two finish in the traditional format.

Many of Albania’s national side’s players are of Kosovo roots with encounters between the two teams hailed as a local derby.

 

Euro 2020 campaign

Twenty-four teams will reach the Euro 2020 finals with four places to be decided by the UEFA Nations League play-offs in March 2020.

Twenty teams, the top two in each of the ten groups, reach the tournament via the traditional qualifiers, running from March to November 2019.

The Euro 2020 finals will be held in 12 host cities across the continent in celebration of the competition's 60-year history.

 

GROUP H

FRANCE

ICELAND

TURKEY

ALBANIA

MOLDOVA

ANDORRA

 

MATCHDAY ONE

Friday 22 March, 2019 - Albania v Turkey

MATCHDAY TWO

Monday 25 March - Andorra v Albania

MATCHDAY THREE

Saturday 8 June - Iceland v Albania

MATCHDAY FOUR

Tuesday 11 June - Albania v Moldova

 MATCHDAY FIVE

Saturday 7 September - France v Albania

MATCHDAY SIX

Tuesday 10 September - Albania v Iceland

MATCHDAY SEVEN

Thursday 10 October - Turkey v Albania

MATCHDAY EIGHT

Monday 14 October - Moldova v Albania

 MATCHDAY NINE

Thursday 14 November - Albania v Andorra

MATCHDAY TEN

Sunday 17 November - Albania v France

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 3, 2018 13:07