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In Albania, Do As The Albanians Do – Or Else.


Peacemaker7

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The Cell

The cell was dark, damp and smelly. There was unintelligible graffiti on the wall, and around me five or six swarthy looking men sat staring at me, muttering unintelligible phrases. For all I know, they could have telling me my flies were undone, or that they were about to kick my head in. I had no idea. I was unsure if their gibberish was a result of my having gone completely insane, or if perhaps they had. Either way, it was a pretty frightening experience as I huddled into the corner of the room, trying to ignore the world around me, hoping it or they would just go away.

I have no recollection of how I got here. Or even of where ‘here’ is. The last thing I remember is I was at my stag party, getting very drunk and being tied naked to a lamp post outside my local pub in my home town of Wrexham. Not that this was my first marriage. In fact, it would be my fourth. Success as an international football player brings with it much wealth, many glamorous women. But it rarely allows for a stable family environment, and as a player I think its fair to say I was an obnoxious wide boy. I made a lot of money from football in the end, although it wasn’t always that way and if I had been at my peak now, I would have ended up even richer I guess. But such is life and I would still make a lot of money as a manager. Not that I needed it.

I guess I must have passed out tied to that lamppost, and a passing PC Plod had taken me into custody. That still didn’t explain why I couldn’t understand a word of what these people were saying. I started to wonder what day it was, and realised that from the night of my stag party I was getting married two days later to the most gorgeous 17 year old I had ever set eyes on. Less than half my 43 years of age, and gagging for it, she wore me out every night, and it was a good job I had retired from playing as I’d never have had the stamina. That and the fact she would only have been 10 years old when I retired. They said she was only after my money, but apart from my first wife whom I think really did love me at the time, that was nothing new and it didn’t bother me. What’s money when you can shag a beautiful young girl every night? Her parents of course were not pleased, but then it wasn’t really any of their business was it.

Panic gripped me as I wondered how long I had been here. It surely could not have been more than an overnight? Yet what if I had lain here unconscious for a couple of days? If I missed that wedding I’d never forgive myself. And neither would she. I didn’t know what to do about it though, and my body could not rise above my fear and sat rigidly in its place. If I closed my eyes, it might be that no one would see me. I sat, waiting for something to happen. Eventually the door opened, some things were thrown into the room which turned out to be food. I didn’t get any, as the other men greedily snapped it up, but truth was I really wasn’t hungry and so it didn’t matter. How long would I have to remain here?

I must have fallen asleep, because when I next came to conscious awareness it was pitch black, what little light there had been was gone. Around me I could hear deep breathing and quiet snoring, indicating that the others were sleep. Suddenly I felt the pressure on my bladder and I needed to pee quite badly. Problem was, I had no idea where the toilet was. If there even was one. As I sat there in desperation, it dawned on me I might have no other choice than to simply let go. It wouldn’t make much difference anyway to the smell and dirt in here I guessed. Luckily I didn’t have to stoop that far, as at that moment the door opened, and a shaft of light entered. A huge giant of a man headed toward me, pointing and shouting, in an accent that clearly wasn’t Welsh.

You! Come now. Follow me!

Not only was I intimidated by the size of the man, but he was waving a gun about in my face. I moved as fast as my legs could carry me……

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The Cell

The cell was dark, damp and smelly. There was unintelligible graffiti on the wall, and around me five or six swarthy looking men sat staring at me, muttering unintelligible phrases. For all I know, they could have telling me my flies were undone, or that they were about to kick my head in. I had no idea. I was unsure if their gibberish was a result of my having gone completely insane, or if perhaps they had. Either way, it was a pretty frightening experience as I huddled into the corner of the room, trying to ignore the world around me, hoping it or they would just go away.

I have no recollection of how I got here. Or even of where ‘here’ is. The last thing I remember is I was at my stag party, getting very drunk and being tied naked to a lamp post outside my local pub in my home town of Wrexham. Not that this was my first marriage. In fact, it would be my fourth. Success as an international football player brings with it much wealth, many glamorous women. But it rarely allows for a stable family environment, and as a player I think its fair to say I was an obnoxious wide boy. I made a lot of money from football in the end, although it wasn’t always that way and if I had been at my peak now, I would have ended up even richer I guess. But such is life and I would still make a lot of money as a manager. Not that I needed it.

I guess I must have passed out tied to that lamppost, and a passing PC Plod had taken me into custody. That still didn’t explain why I couldn’t understand a word of what these people were saying. I started to wonder what day it was, and realised that from the night of my stag party I was getting married two days later to the most gorgeous 17 year old I had ever set eyes on. Less than half my 43 years of age, and gagging for it, she wore me out every night, and it was a good job I had retired from playing as I’d never have had the stamina. That and the fact she would only have been 10 years old when I retired. They said she was only after my money, but apart from my first wife whom I think really did love me at the time, that was nothing new and it didn’t bother me. What’s money when you can shag a beautiful young girl every night? Her parents of course were not pleased, but then it wasn’t really any of their business was it.

Panic gripped me as I wondered how long I had been here. It surely could not have been more than an overnight? Yet what if I had lain here unconscious for a couple of days? If I missed that wedding I’d never forgive myself. And neither would she. I didn’t know what to do about it though, and my body could not rise above my fear and sat rigidly in its place. If I closed my eyes, it might be that no one would see me. I sat, waiting for something to happen. Eventually the door opened, some things were thrown into the room which turned out to be food. I didn’t get any, as the other men greedily snapped it up, but truth was I really wasn’t hungry and so it didn’t matter. How long would I have to remain here?

I must have fallen asleep, because when I next came to conscious awareness it was pitch black, what little light there had been was gone. Around me I could hear deep breathing and quiet snoring, indicating that the others were sleep. Suddenly I felt the pressure on my bladder and I needed to pee quite badly. Problem was, I had no idea where the toilet was. If there even was one. As I sat there in desperation, it dawned on me I might have no other choice than to simply let go. It wouldn’t make much difference anyway to the smell and dirt in here I guessed. Luckily I didn’t have to stoop that far, as at that moment the door opened, and a shaft of light entered. A huge giant of a man headed toward me, pointing and shouting, in an accent that clearly wasn’t Welsh.

You! Come now. Follow me!

Not only was I intimidated by the size of the man, but he was waving a gun about in my face. I moved as fast as my legs could carry me……

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Showering

I followed as fast as I could as the guard led me through a maze of corridors that passed in a blur. We passed one or two other guards, all clearly armed and I’m not ashamed to say I was scared out of my wits. This had to be a freaking nightmare, but it all seemed so real. Way too real in fact. My journey with my guard ended as he led me into a room, pointed and said You, undress. Wash. Now.

I followed his instructions, and was relieved when he didn’t actually follow me into the shower, although I would not have been surprised if he had. My mind was too numbed to be surprised at the moment, shrouded in confusion. I tried to take my time showering, to take stock of my situation, to force my mind to try and remember. But it was useless. I could remember stumbling out of the pub, I could remember the laughing, the jeering as I was stripped and tied to the lamp-post, and being left there, expecting someone to come back and untie me. I must have passed out because the next thing I remember is being in that cell. I have no idea how I got here.

Slowly, as the surprisingly warm water stimulated my brain, I began to think about where I was. The guards had guns. That thought kept racing through my mind, trying to tell me something. The guards had guns…..so…… this wasn’t a british jail. Therefore I either wasn’t in Britain, or…….. or ……….or what? And then it dawned on me. I had been kidnapped.

It made perfect sense. I was a rich, fairly well known ex-Welsh international football player. I won countless titles and cups with Manchester United, Juventus and Real Madrid, having won the Champions League with each. I had once been married to a European Princess. Clearly, someone had thought they could make a buck from me, and it all fell into place. They probably wanted me to make some video now, to plea for my release. That would be why they were letting me shower, to make me presentable, to show they were looking after me.

I finished my shower, dressed in the clean clothes that had been provided, and the guard beckoned me to follow him once more. Leading me through more endless corridors, that could have been and probably were the same ones. Finally we stopped, and he opened a door motioning me inside. Immediately my assumptions seemed to be correct. Four men were sitting round a table in the room. And I didn’t like the look of them one little bit…..

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The Room

The four men seemed friendly enough as I was shown to my seat. The guard left, and I was alone with this ‘committee’. I had no idea what they would say, what they would demand. I was hungry and tired, and for the first time I started to feel angry. That was good, it meant I was recovering my senses a little. The men were all staring at me, nodding and smiling and exchanging the odd, seemingly knowing word, still in that language that made no sense to me. That almost confirmed my fears that I had been kidnapped. They appeared to be waiting for something, but what I had no idea what it was they were waiting for.

I sat patiently for minutes, before finally exploding What the flying f-uck is it you guys want!

The man on the middle right, the one with a thick bushy mustache answered me in gibberish, then he said something to the man on the far left, who spoke. In English. Well, sort of English.

Welcome He had what I could only describe as big stupid grin on his face. Welcome! We are very pleased you have come to us. We are very sorry for treatment, did not expect you, did not realise. We are very sorry.

Although what he said made sense in English, it didn’t make sense in my head. He hadn’t laid down any ransom, any threats. He didn’t sound very much like a kidnapper.

Look I decided to grab my moment I’ve been held in a dirty cell, Im hungry, Im tired, I have no idea what’s going on here. Now someone for the love of GOD please. TELL ME WHY I’M HERE!

There was a confused whispering between the men, and then the one on the far left spoke again.

We are very sorry!

I felt that I wanted to punch his stupid smiling face in. He went on.

You will have food, water, much sleep. Later. We wait now for Armand. He has papers. Then we go for food yes? We are very sorry!

I was speechless. I had not idea who Armand was, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I wanted to scream, I wanted to get up and get the hell out of here, but there were men with guns here, and I still had no idea what these people, these smiling halfwits, wanted. We waited for what seemed like hours, when the door opened, and a guard showed a small, bald, dumpy man in. I assumed, I hoped to God, this was Armand……

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Armand

The manner of the people in this room, the luxuriousness of it, and of them, would ill-prepare me for what lay ahead. Armand, taking out a fat cigar, took a seat at the table, and the other four men looked to him in defferance. The man on the left spoke again.

Armand, he is here. Now, we begin yes?

Armand spoke, slowly and methodically, looking right at me. I didn’t understand a word he was saying. When he paused, the man on the left spoke.

Armand say, welcome to Albania. We very proud to have such great legend come here. So sorry for misunderstanding, we not expect response so soon. Our police being, erm, over zealous, think you are spy.

Armand continued as I sat there, stunned. How the hell had I gotten to Albania for f-uck sake?

We ask you to please sign here. We are very sorry. His face seemed eagerly expectant.

He shoved a piece of paper in front of me, indicating where I was to sign. I hesistated for a minute. For all I knew, this could be my death warrant. But these people didn’t seem like terrorists or kidnappers, and the man on the left did keep repeating that he was sorry. I assumed, after careful thought, that this was my ticket to freedom. And if it was a death warrant, well it wasn’t as if I very many options open to me.

I signed the paper and pushed it back towards Armand, who stood up, a huge smile on his face and thrust a hand towards me. Instinctively, I stood up and took his hand, as he spoke in his unintelligible language. I waited till he stopped speaking, and then the man on the left translated.

Welcome again to Albania. We are so proud to have such legend here. We are sure you will bring us many successes. Now, we go eat!

My chin nearly hit the floor. What the hell had I just done……..

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A Job

I had no idea what to do, and how to explain to these people that I already had a job, as manager of Cefn Druids, and that the contract I had apparently just signed was void. The problem is, how do you explain this to a group of people, only one of whom barely speaks the same language as you, and who are escorted by three men carrying guns? The answer is, with very great difficulty. All I could do, for now, was follow them and try my best to find a way out of here.

Albania is a very poor country, and for 47 years was one of the most brutal and oppressive communist regimes in the world. They maintained diplomatic links with very few countries during that time of self imposed isolation, and travelling there was nigh on impossible. Only under the very strictest limits did they let people in, although that became farcical when the let the Celtic squad in. Since the 1992 election, the country has been flooded by ethnic Albanians fleeing from Kosovo, and is indeed the poorest country in Europe. Yet even in poor countries, there are rich people, and the meal we had was of the highest quality. It was only later, when I surveyed the magnitude of the lack of wealth, that I realised how disgusting that meal had been.

It took me three days before I was finally able to get a phone call to my now ex-fiancee. Aparantly the news of my appointment as the new manager of the Albanian national side had been all over the British newpapers, and she was not amused at my running out on her, and promptly hung up the phone before I could explain. Another one bites the dust, before it even took off. My only consolation was my memories of our nights of passionate love making.

I didn’t want to be here in Albania though. Yet it was made clear to me, through interpreters and body language, that I had no option. Albania might be a democratic country now, but the regime was still pretty tight, and I had no doubts they would have me shot, or at least locked up forever, If I refused to comply. I would simply have to settle to the task. And besides, now my whole reputation was on the line, and I simply couldn’t just run away.

My former Chairman at the Druids was no help either.

Congratulations he boomed over the phone, We were delighted to give the Albanian FA permission to appoint you. A bit miffed you didn’t contact us yourself to be honest, but I guess it was just an oversite in all the exciting of getting such a job. When they sack you……. Don’t bother coming back here.

Like it or lump it, I was here for the duration….

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Albanian Football – A Potted History (Part One)

Albania are not the most successful footballing nation on the planet. That is a fact, and probably wont come as a surprise to anyone. Even the most rabid Albanian. The sport was introduced to the country around the turn of the century by so-called ‘Christian’ students. Exactly why these students were playing a game of football, rather than bible study is anyone’s guess but is clearly very wrong. Nevertheless their actions inspired the local populace and in 1920, Vllaznia of Schkoder were the first official football club to be formed in the country.

At both club and international level, Albania has had very little success. The first Albanian side to play in UEFA competition was FC Partizani Tirana, who did manage a home draw with Swedish side Norrkoping, but lost the away leg 3-1. Although clubs have managed individual, one off successes, no Albanian side has ever been passed the 2nd round of a UEFA competition. And at International level, the record isn’t much better.

The Qualifying for the World Cup 2006 Finals will be only the 9th time the country has tried to qualify, and so far have failed the eight times previously. Albania’s first World Cup qualifier was in Holland on the 24th May 1964 going down 2-0. In a group that also contained Switzerland and Northern Ireland, Albania’s only glimmer of success was 1-1 draw with the Northern Irish in Tirana, and they ended bottom of their group. The country didn’t enter the 1970 World Cup, to be held in Mexico and their next attempt was for West Germany ’74. This time they were to draw East Germany, Romania and Finland and although they were once more to finish bottom of their group, this time they did managed to get a win, 1-0 over Finland in Tirana.

The 1978 World Cup qualifying was also missed, but for 1982 the Albanian’s were back. Drawn with Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Finland again, this time they did not end bottom. They ended 2nd bottom. A 2-0 win over Finland in Tirana was enough to see them finish above the Finns on goal difference, despite 5-0 and 8-0 hammerings from the Austrian’s and Germans respectively. Four years later, Albania drew Poland, Belgium and Greece in their attempt to reach Mexico 86, the first time they had entered a tournament not be held in Europe. Exactly why they didn’t enter the previous twice I have no idea, its not as if they were going to qualify anyway!

Once more, the Albanian’s finished 2nd bottom of their group, but a good 2-2 draw was achieved in Poland, and a fine 2-0 win over Belgium in Tirana, as well as a home 1-1 draw with bottom side Greece. It all amounted to their best effort to that date, and a sign that they were starting to improve, be it ever so slightly. Then again, perhaps it was a false dawn, as in the qualifying for Italy 90, in a group with England, Sweden and Poland, they were to lose all six matches. From their best to their worst, and a huge step backwards.

Drawn in a seven team group for the USA 94 qualifying, along with Spain, Ireland, Denmark, Northern Ireland, Lithuania and Latvia, it might be thought Albania would have a chance to pick up a few wins. But they were once more to finish bottom of their group, although they did beat Lithuania 1-0, and gained draws with Latvia home and away. For the 1998 Qualifying, Albania’s ‘home’ matches were all played on neutral ground apart from the 1-1 draw with Armenia, and as you would expect this didn’t help their chances. Drawn with Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Armenia and Nothern Ireland once more, they yet again finished bottom of their group. A 1-0 ‘home’ win over Northern Ireland in Spain was their only real success in terms of winning, but they did only lose 3-2 in their ‘home’ match with Germany, and ended up losing 4-3 in Germany, thanks to a 92nd minute Bierhoff goal.

For the last World Cup Qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002, there were familiar faces in the Albanian group as they drew England, Germany, Finland and Greece. A 2-0 win over Greece in Tirana was their only success as they once more finished bottom. It will come as a relief then that Greece are in our group for the 2006 Qualifiers, along with Turkey, Denmark, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Georgia. There is a real belief that this time, the country wont come bottom.

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Albanian Football – A Potted History (Part Two)

Like most countries, even though they have had very limited success, Albania has still produced one or two real ‘gems’. A fair number of the current international squad now play abroad, and this can only be good for them in terms of gaining experience and improving their skills. Of the current crop of players, Florian Myrtaj, who playes in Italy with Verona, but is co-owned by Parma, is probably the best of the bunch. Whether he can rise to the levels of Albania’s arguably best player of all time, Panajot Pano, is a matter of opinion, and only time will tell.

In The European Championships, Albania did not take in the 1960 tournament to be held in France, but did enter for Spain 64, gaining a walkover against Greece, before losing to Denmark on a 4-1 aggregate, although they did win 1-0 in Tirana, thanks to a goal from Pano. The 1968 qualification saw Albania up against Yugoslavia and West Germany and after losing 2-0 and 4-0 to the Yugoslavs and being hammered 6-0 in Germany, they were to hold the West Germans to 0-0 in Tirana, and thus allowing Yugoslavia to reach the Finals in Italy.

West Germany were one of their opponents once more in the bid to reach Belgium 72, along with Poland and Turkey. Again they came close to shocking the Germans, only going down 1-0 at home, but were to end bottom of their group. They did though gain a 1-1 draw at home to Poland, and fine 3-0 win over Turkey. Albania did not enter the 1976 or 1980 tournaments, but for the qualifying for France 84 they were back and once more drew Turkey…… and Germany, as well as Austria and Northern Ireland. It makes you wonder if they really do draw these things or if they just make them up. Home draws with Northern Ireland and Turkey were all Albania got to show for their efforts, as they once more finished bottom of their group.

The Qualifying for Germany 88 is best forgotten about, as in a group with Spain, Romania and Austria, Albania lost the lot, and the 1992 qualifiers, in with France, Czechoslovakia, Spain and Iceland were not to prove much better, although they did beat Iceland 1-0 in Tirana. They still finished bottom of their group. They were to fare better though in the 1996 qualifying campaign, as they were drawn with Germany (again), Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova and Wales. Wins over Moldova home and away, and home draws with Bulgaria and Wales saw the Albanians not finish bottom. This time they finished 2nd bottom. We wont mention who came bottom, and for my part I can only say I don’t remember much about it.

For the 2000 qualifying, there was a sigh of relief. They hadn’t drawn the Germans. They did though draw Norway, Greece, Slovenia, Latvia and Georgia. Although they were to finish 2nd bottom again, there was finally glimmers of hope. A 2-1 win over bottom side Georgia was expect, but draws with Norway, Greece and Latvia twice gave the Albanian’s there best effort yet, in terms of results and points, and what other terms can there be. Russia, Ireland and Georgia were the opponents in the race for Euro 2004, and despite coming 2nd bottom, there was real cause to be confident about the future. Draws with Switzerland and Ireland were good enough, a win over Georgia was expected, but the 3-1 win over Russia was the highlight of the group.

It might seem then, looking at their history, that there isn’t a hope in hell Albania can qualify for the 2006 World Cup. That is probably true, but there does seem to be an underlying belief that they are improving as a nation, and the dream is to finish as high as possible, and build on the Euro 2004 Qualifiers.

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Settling In

I have no idea whom the Albanian authorities actually had been expecting, if indeed they had really been expecting anyone at all. I know for a fact I had not applied for this job, and I was still totally confused as to how I had gotten here. No doubt in the fullness of time I would find out, but trying to contact people on the outside had not been easy, and those I had managed to phone were not willing to admit their part in this whole fiasco. Fiona, my now ex-fiancee, refused to talk to me when I phoned her, and I eventually had to give up. Perhaps I would eventually be able to get back to Wrexham, and speak to her face to face, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to realise that perhaps I had had a lucky escape. And the young receptionist in the hotel I was staying at more than convinced me I was better off single.

My first matches in charge of the national side were still some way off, and for now all I could do was try to settle in, and get used to being in this strange but often quaint country. Chatting up the women was far from easy, and Albania is a mostly Moslem country, but I found my ways to entertain myself to pass the time. I was also able to fill myself in on the history of the game here, and establish for myself just what sort of task I had here. I figured that at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be that much harder than managing a League of Wales side.

My main worry was the expectations of the Albanian FA. Armand came across as a jovial sort of chap, but unless my interpreter had been taking liberties, his expectations seem to be a bit high. He didn’t expect us to reach Germany 2006, even he wasn’t that insane, but it was clear he expected results building on the previous European Championship qualifying, and that he would not be happy to come bottom or even second bottom of the group this time. I worried about the consequences should I fail, but in the end I could only do what I could, and the consequences would take care of themselves.

The football season soon got under way, and looking to see who might impress me and earn a call up to the national side, I would of course be taking in the European games involving Albanian teams, starting of course with the Inter Toto Cup. That would probably not be very many games, as Albanian sides rarely lasted long in Europe. Two Albanian sides took their place in the Inter Toto first round, hoping to progress as far as possible, although it was unlikely they would reach the UEFA from here, and for Teuta that was to be the case for sure. A 2-1 home victory over Romania’s Gloria 1922 Bistrita was a decent performance, and the 2-1 defeat in Romania in the 2nd leg was no disgrace either, but Teuta found no luck and were edged out in the penalty shoot out.

The other Albania side, Vllaznia, had drawn a possibly easier tie against Estonia’s Narva Trans. They too though secured a 2-1 home first leg win, but that result was not greeted with much praise. In Estonia though, Trans could not overcome the deficit, Vllaznia winning there also by 2-1 to progress to the 2nd round, where they would play Zlin of the Czech Republic. Once more the first leg was at home, but the 2-1 scoreline this time went against the Albania side, and they would now have a nigh impossible task to stay in Europe. A 1-1 away draw in Estonia wasn’t a bad result when taken as a stand alone, but it wasn’t enough and Vllaznia’s interest in Europe was over for another seaso

n.

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Albania, eh? The only Albanian player I know of is Igli Tare who plays in the Italian Serie A, but I don't recall for which team at the moment.

Looking forward to a cracking story PM, just as your stories always seem to be. icon_cool.gif

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Some More Europe

SK Tirana had drawn a reasonably tough tie against Icelanders KR in the Champions League, and would need to get a good home result. Albania though is not the easiest place to travel to, and even big clubs have found it tough here in the past. Fifteen minutes into the match though, KR were ahead, and seven minutes later won a penalty which was converted and now SK had a proverbial mountain to climb. Altin Rraklli did pull them a goal back on 26 minutes but it was not to be enough and SK were halfway out of the Champions League. None of their players had really stood out, which from my point of view was a little bit depressing.

In the UEFA Cup, Partizani were at home to Bosnian side Modrica Maxima. This was one of those matches that could go either way, and it was the Bosnians who took the lead with a 21st minute penalty. Less than a minute later, Mateo Metani levelled things and four minutes after the break Ardit Beqiri sent Partizani into the lead. Hopes of taking that lead to Bosnia though were dashed eight minutes from time, and although a far from impossible task, it will take a lot of guts for the Albanians to come through now.

For Dinamo Tirana though, things were to go a lot better in Macedonia, and finally some good news for Albanian football. Sloga Jugomagnat were their rather strangely named team, which is probably rich coming from a Welshman. Left back Luan Pinari sent Dinamo ahead after 7 minutes, and had a good all round game. Finally I was getting to see some players who might just be able to get into my first squads. Fjaton Ymeri scored the second on 33 minutes, but although he played ok, he doesn’t quite look international class and I have to believe there are better strikers available to me. A great away win, which gives Dinamo a chance of reaching the next round.

In Iceland, SK needed an early goal to have any real chance, and they certainly couldn’t afford to lose one. Just three minutes in Mahir Halili didn’t do his international chances any harm with a fine goal, and it was just the start SK needed. They were of course still trailing on the away goals rule, but they were playing well, and it seemed just a matter of time before the second goal came. And indeed, four minutes into the second half Indrit Fortuzi. capped 26 times already showed he can get a few more caps with a good goal, and now SK were ahead on aggregate. The Icelanders though, who had seemed lethargic so far, suddenly woke up to the fact they were on their way out of Europe, and with ten minutes left they took the match the Extra Time. SK’s Geri Cipi was sent off a minute after the goal, which was a huge blow. With the match heading to penalties, Eldorado Merkoci fired in a shot from a corner and SK were into the second round. It was a great come back, and their reward was a match with Sparta Prague. That would certainly be a whole lot tougher.

In the UEFA Cup, the second legs could not have been in any more contrast. Partizani were ripped apart in Bosnia, going down 3-0 on the night, and out on a 5-2 aggregate scoreline. It wasn’t the best of nights for them, and it would be a depressing trip back home. Meanwhile, in Tirana, Dinamo were having a party as they cruised past Sloga 4-0 for a 6-0 aggregate, a superb performance. They would face Serbian’s Partizan Belgrade in the 2nd qualifying round.

It would need a huge performance from SK to overcome a Sparta Prague team who were clearly superior in ability. Yet the great thing about football is that ability can often be overcome with determination. Just two minutes into the match and the Czech side were ahead, yet some of that determination needed by SK came to the fore, as just three minutes later they were level through Rezart Dabulla. It took only eight minutes for Sparta to restore their lead, but SK were not being outplayed, and a 2-1 away defeat wouldn’t be disheartening. As the match wore in though, Sparta’s superiority grew, and it was no surprise when they added a third with sixteen minutes left to play. A tough, but not impossible task for SK in Tirana. On the night though it was to prove a bridge too far, as Sparta were to win 2-1, and SK were the latest Albanian casualties in Europe.

Dinamo were the last hopes of having some extra success this season, and an Artan Poci penalty on 41 minutes gave them a narrow 1-0 lead to take to Belgrade, but at least they hadn’t lost an away goal, which can often be the deciding factor these days. After a good first half in the return leg, Dinamo gave away two goals in two minutes, and found themselves trailing on aggregate. Eight minutes from time though, Sokol Ishka grabbed that vital goal, and not losing one at home did indeed prove to be so crucial as Dinamo entered the 1st round proper of the UEFA Cup. Standing in the way of their entry to the group stage would be Portugese side, Maritimo.

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Fine start, like the format and the tone icon14.gif

Had to take a look when I saw the title -throws me back to an ill-advised drive around Kukes, back when I was working in Kosovo...

Never met any Albanian called Armand, by the way, and I was surrounded with them when living in Pristina, but a little suspension of disbelief is never a bad thing I suppose icon_wink.gif

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The Squad Selections

Finally, the waiting was over and I had the chance to pick my first squads as Albania manager. Having accepted my fate, I was quite looking forward to it in a way, and with no money for a decent sized coaching staff, I would have to manage the Under 19’s and the Under 21’s myself. But then, I had plenty of time to do so, there isn’t really much to do as an international manager on a day to day basis, and don’t let them kid you otherwise.

I wasn’t entirely alone though to take care of the three teams. I had two coaches, and three physios. That was just as well, because I wasn’t a doctor by any stretch of the imagination. My coaches, both Albanians, were 50 year old Medin Zhega and 43 year old Sulejman Starova who was on the coaching staff also at SK Tirana. The three physios are unimportant really, I mean who ever heard of a physio?

Having two Albania coaches was useful, because I had hardly picked up a word of the language. The problem was, neither of them could speak a word of English. Nevertheless, we managed to communicate somehow, and eventually were able to name our squads, that we hoped would carry us to glory. Some hope.

Albania vs Greece/Georgia World Cup Qualifiers, 4th/8th September 2004

Goalkeepers

Blendi Nallbani GK (33) SK Tirana (16 Caps)

Arjan Beqaj GK (28) Ionikos (13 Caps)

Elvis Agolli GK (22) Partizani (Uncapped)

Defence

Paulin Dhembi D/DMC (25) Dinamo (3 Caps)

Nevil Dede SW/DC (29) Elbasani (16 Caps)

Luan Pinari D/DMLC (26) Dinamo (5 Caps, 1 goal)

Arjan Pisha SW/DRLC (27) Dinamo (Uncapped)

Rezart Dabulla D/DML (24) SK Tirana (5 Caps)

Elvin Beqiri DRL (23) Metalurg Donetsk (7 Caps)

Geri Cipi SW/DC (28) SK Tirana (30 caps)

Julian Ahmataj DRC (24) Elbasani ( 1 Cap)

Elton Fani D/DMRC (26) Elbasani (Uncapped)

Midfield

Ervin Skela AMLC (27) Bielefeld (16 Caps, 3 goals)

Altin Lala DM (27) Hannover 96 (33 Caps, 2 goals)

Devi Muka AMRC (27) SK Tirana ( 5 Caps)

Ervin Bulku DMRC (23) SK Tirana (3 Caps)

Klodian Duro AMC (26) Bielefeld (22 Caps, 1 goal)

Saimir Patushi DMRC (27) SK Tirana (Uncapped)

Sokol Bulku DMC (26) SK Tirana (1 U21 Cap)

Edwin Murati AMLC (28) Iraklis] (13 Caps, 2 goals)

Gentian Gjondedaj DMC (24) Flamurtari (Uncapped)

Armando Zani AMLC (28) Augsburg (Uncapped)

Forwards

Florian Myrtaj FRLC (27) Parma/Verona (6 Caps)

Igli Tare (30) SC (30) Bologna (36 Caps, 4 goals)

Bledi Shkembi SC (25) Kamen Ingrad (3 Caps)

Skerdilaid Curri AM/FRC (28) Aue (Uncapped)

A mixture of experience and inexperience. There are are a fair few player who play their football outside Albania, and their experience is very valuable to the squad. Florian Myrtaj and Atlin Lala are probably our best players, and a lot is expected of them. The standard of player here is actually not too bad. Some of these players would not be out of place in a lower EPL side, and some might even make the squads of the top clubs. Of course, the depth is lacking as you would expect, but Albanian football is on the rise as reflected by the Under 21 squad, which contains one or two players who will be knocking on the door of the full squad soon. I hope.

Albania U-21’s v Greece U-21’s/Georgia U-21s European U-21 Championships Qualifiers 3rd/7th September 2004

Squad

Goalkeepers

Dorian Ethemi GK (20) Teuta

Armando Paro GK (21) Erzeni

Sokol Spaho GK (21) Lushnja

Defence

Debatik Curri DRLC (20) Barcelona

Enri Ndreka DRLC (21) Partizani ( 2 Caps)

Armend Dallku DRC (21) Elbasanip (2 U21 caps)

Alert Sejdini DRC (21) Elbasani

Bledar Shima DL (20) Teuta

Erogen Brajovic DC (21) Vllaznia

Altin Mateli DC (21) Erzeni

Artur Xhyra DC (20) Shkumbini

Ilir Kalari D/DMR (20) Laci

Midfield

Gentian Besha DMC (20) Bylis

Lorik Cana DMC (21) Paris SG (6 Caps)

Fatjon Karamani AMLC (21) Tomori

Marenglen Kule AMC (21) Apolonia

Ergys Shameti AMC (20) Erzeni

Migen Taipi[/i] AMC (21) Erzeni

Krenar Vokshi AMC (21) Villarreal

Forwards

Sokol Kacani AM/FLC (20) BW Linz (1 cap)

Arben Ahmetaj SC (20) Bylis

Klajdi Albrahimi SC (21) Elbasani

Leonard Muzha SC (20) Apolonia

Parid Xhihani SC (21) Dinamo

The U-21s are unlikely to reach the European U21 Championships, but there are one or two very promising players in the squad. Debatik Curri and Armend Dallku in the defence along with Lorik Cana, who already has six full caps and Krenar Vokshi in the midfield could all probably hold down a place in the full squad. Our real weaknesses seem to be in goal and up front, and at the end of the day that is what will cost us success.

Albania U-19’s v Cayman Islands U-20’s/Belarus U-19, Friendlies 2nd/6th September 2004

Goalkeepers

Gerti Sharra GK (16) Dinamo *

Gledis Sharra GK (19) SK Tirana *

Glend Tafaj GK (17) Unattached

Defence

Saimar Hysa DR (17) Shkumbini

Xhevahir Sukja DR (16) Vllaznia

Tefik Osmani DRC (19) Partizani (3 U21 Caps) *

Gjon Gjergji DL (18) Segesta

Mark Gjini DL (19) Besa

Florian Ristani DL (19) Partizani

Erjon Bajro DC (19) Elbasani

Andi Canaj DC (19) Partizani *

Aldo Guna DC (19) Flamurtari

Erald Pustina DC (19) Lushnja

Midfield

Arben Prelaj DMLC (19) Beselidhja

Rudolf Nurja DMC (19) Dinamo

Artur Qerolli MRC (19) Besa

Andi Lila MC (18) Besa *

Florian Manastirliu MC (19) SK Tirana

Enio Samarxhi MC (19) Partizani

Behar Hoti AMRC (16) Egnatia

Adonis Shala AM/FRC (15) Egnatia *

Forwards

Krenar Kosumi FRC (18) Velez *

Taulant Ismailaj FC (17) Luftetari

Arber Abilaliaj SC (18) Flamurtari

Mario Bytyci SC (19) Unattached

The goalkeepers Gerti and Gledis Sharra both look very promising, and other players to keep an eye on for the future are Tefik Osmani, who already has U-21 caps, Andi Canaj, Andi Lila, Andonis Shala who is only 15 and yet is good enough to play at this level, and Krenar Kosumi who has amazingly just signed for Argentinian outfit Velez. Whilst I would expect us to do well against the Caymen Islands, the depth of the pool really isn’t that great and we will struggle against better class sides.

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Albania Under19’s v Cayman Islands Under 20’s

Friendly

Selman Stermasi, Albania

1421

Albania (4-1-3-2): Gledis Sharra; Xhevahir Sukaj, Tefik Osmani, Aldo Guna, Mark Gjini; Rudolf Nurja; Andi Lila, Andonis Shala, Florian Manastirliu; Krenar Kosumi, Arber Abilaliaj Subs: Gerti Sharra (GK), Enrik Dafa, Erjon Bajro, Arben Prelaj, Artur Qerolli, Taulant Ismailaj, Behar Hoti, Mario Bytyci, Erald Pustina

Cayman Islands (4-4-2): MWalker; D Rose, M Howells, V Reeve, R Huddlestone; P Cooke, J Little, S Bell, B McDonnell; N Rushbury, M Wright Subs: P Lovell (GK), J Toner, D Wild, D Donaldson, P Moran, A Marshall, J McGuire, M Jenas, D Benjamin

My first chance to see the future of Albanian football in action, and I hope to see one or two players who would impress me enough to gain promotion soon to the full squad. It was only a friendly, but there was a lot at stake for these players, and I wanted them to go out there and put on a show against the older Cayman team. There was only one withdrawal before the match as Andi Canaj was replaced by Enrik Dafa (SW/DLC (19) Teuta)_

The match started quietly in front of a small but vocal home support. Indeed it took 12 minutes before the first real bit of action, when Shala worked some magic to set up the first real chance of the match, but the Cayman keeper held the final effort from Abilaliaj. Nevertheless, it was encouraging play and the youngsters seemed full of confidence. A couple of minutes later, the Cayman’s Davies was booked for a trip on Kosumi and it was he who took the resultant free kick, but it went disappointingly high over the bar.

It was fully 28 minutes before the visitors threatened our goal. Rushbury was fouled on the edge of the area by Guna, but McDonnell’s free kick was also high over the bar. It was a warning though that we musnt take this team lightly. Guna was in trouble a few minutes later for another trip on the dangerous Rushbury, and received a stern warning from the referee. Once again though, the free kick failed to trouble our goal.

The half pettered out, with little real chances from either side, and all in all it had been quite a disappointing display of football, with little to get the crowd excited about. We could only hope the second half would be better. I didn’t make any changes at half time. I believed we had started with our strongest 11 and I really wanted to give them as long a workout as possible. It was important to see that they could, and there would be time for experimenting later if needed.

The second half started as the first had ended, and there was real fear the crowd would get up and leave. This was boring stuff. Just after the hour, the Caymans madse a few changes, and perhaps they would no try to open up a little bit more from their stuffy defensiveness so far. With sixteen minutes left, we built up our first penetrating move of the half. Sukaj picked up a poor clearance just inside his own half, and played a neat one two with Lila before sending the ball forward to Shala. Shala found Kosumip on the edge of the area, but he was being crowded by two defenders and knocked the ball back to Lila who was unmarked outside the area and hit a first time shot from 25 yards that totally beat the keeper and went in off his right hand post. It was a well worked, and well deserved goal.

The Cayman’s had created very little, and just two minutes later we punished them again. After some more fine build up play, Shala latched onto a through ball from Manastirliu and we were 2-0 ahead. After that the match died again, and the only real happening was an injury to Shala almost on full time. Ismailaj came on, but he didn’t get to touch the ball before the referee blew for full time.

At the end of the day, a pleasing result, and although the match at times was an utter bore, both our goals were well taken. There were some decent performances, and our next match against Belarus will surely be a much tougher test for the kids.

How they Played:

Albania : Gledis Sharra 7; Xhevahir Sukaj 7, Tefik Osmani 7, Aldo Guna 7 Mark Gjini 7; Rudolf Nurja 7; Andi Lila (1) 7, Andonis Shala (inj 90) (1) 8, Florian Manastirliu 7; Krenar Kosumi 7, Arber Abilaliaj 7 Subs: Gerti Sharra (GK), Enrik Dafa, Erjon Bajro, Arben Prelaj, Artur Qerolli, Taulant Ismailaj (on 90) 6, Behar Hoti, Mario Bytyci, Erald Pustina

Cayman Islands : M Walker 6; D Rose 7, M Howells 7, V Reeve 7, R Huddlestone 7; P Cooke 6, J Little (MoM) 8, S Bell 7, B McDonnell 7; N Rushbury 5, M Wright 7 Subs: P Lovell (GK), J Toner, D Wild, D Donaldson (on 62) 7, P Moran (on 62) 7, A Marshall (on 74) 7 J McGuire (on 74) 6, M Jenas (on 62) 7, D Benjamin (on 62) 7

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Peacemaker7:

Just for you Dave icon_wink.gif

http://www.uefa.com/FootballCentral/Directory/Country=alb/Association=2/index.html <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I stand corrected icon_redface.gificon_biggrin.gif

And you even have an 'Armando' in your senior team, and another one (as well as an 'Armend') in your under-21s...

Should have known you'd done some proper research on this. Nice one icon_smile.gif

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Albania U-21’s v Greece U-21’s

European U-21 Championship Group 2 Qualifier

Loro Borici (Shkoder), Albania

4373

Albania: (4-2-3-1) Dorian Ethemi; Debatik Currie, Bledar Shima, Armend Dallku, Atin Matelli; Edlir Tetova, Lorik Cana; Marenglen Kule, Sokol Kacani, Ergys Shameti; Kladjdi Albrahimi Subs: Armando Paro (GK), Enri Ndreka, Ervin Buzi, Erogen Brajovic, Migen Taipi, Leonard Muzha, Alert Sejdini

Greece icon_frown.gif3-5-2) Leonidas Papadakis, Grigoris Toskas, Christos Kartpidis, Sokratis Fytanidis, Agisilaos Pasas, Giorgos Ntovas, Kostas Mendrinos, Platon Karakatsanis, Kostas Kapetanos, Christos Balodimos, Periklis Bousinakis Subs Manolis Mavridis (GK), Nikos Mitrou, Alexandros Tziolis, Vangelis Mantzios, Filippos Darlas, Dimitris Kioliaras, Ilias Eleftheriadas

Fatjon Karmani and Gentian Besha both withdrew injured before the match. And had to be replaced with Ervin Buzi (AMC (21) Apolonia) and Edlir Tetova (DMC (21) Teuta (5 U 21 caps)) and so the match was ready to get underway. The U-21s have as much chance of qualifying as the full team, but for all of us this is really a learning curve and the aim is simply to do as well as we possibly can.

It was, unsurprisingly, Greece who made the brighter start, and won a corner in the first two minutes, but it was to come to nothing. On five minutes we had a corner of our own as we hit back, but it too came to nothing. Greece tried to create an attack, but Albrahimi manged to stop their build up with a good interception, and then launched an attack of our own. Cana set up Kacani with a good chance, but although his effort was decent enough, Papadakis was able to save and hold onto the ball. It had been a bright enough opening.

Kacani had another chance on six minutes, but this time his effort was wide of the target. Six minutes later though, the hard working forwards efforts paid off. Curri played a through ball to Shameti who took the ball down the right, crossing into the area and it was Kacani who beat Kapetanos in the air, and flighted the ball past Papadakis, and to the delight of the home support, we found ourselves in an early lead.

Greece’s Bousinakis was yellow carded on the 16th minute, and four mintes later Karypidis followed his team mate into the referee’s book. Lorik Cana had a good chance from a Tetova corner, but his final effort went just wide of the post. Nevertheless it was heartening to see us cause the Greeks so many problems. Ethemi was finally forced into a save on 24 minutes, and five minutes later Greece had a third player booked. This time it was Balodimos who went into the referee’s book for a foul on Tetova, which ended the lads game, and he had to be replaced by Buzi.

Only a few minutes later, bad boy Balodimos brought further grief to the home support as he latched onto a great through ball from Pasa, and the Greeks were undeservedly level. Cana and Shameti both had chances before halftime, but neither could convert and the sides went in level after an excellent first half of football. We could feel pleased with our efforts, but we probably should have been leading.

On 67 minutes, Manzios became the 4th Greek player to be yellow carded, but whereas the first half had been entertaining, the second fizzled out. There were few chances from either side to get the winner, and in the end a draw was probably a decent result. A point on the board isn’t to be sneezed at, and hopefully we can build on this and get a few more points before the group is over.

How they played:

Albania: Dorian Ethemi 6; Debatik Currie 7, Bledar Shima 7, Armend Dallku 7 Atin Matelli 7; Edlir Tetova (inj 31) 7, Lorik Cana 7; Marenglen Kule 7, Sokol Kacani (1) MoM 8, Ergys Shameti 8; Kladjdi Albrahimi (off 70) 7 Subs: Armando Paro (GK), Enri Ndreka, Ervin Buzi (on 31) 7, Erogen Brajovic, Migen Taipi, Leonard Muzha (on 70) 7, Alert Sejdini

Greece : Leonidas Papadakis 6, Grigoris Toskas 7, Christos Kartpidis (Y) 8, Sokratis Fytanidis 7, Agisilaos Pasas 7, Giorgos Ntovas 7, Kostas Mendrinos (off 45) 7, Platon Karakatsanis 7, Kostas Kapetanos (off 63) 7 , Christos Balodimos (Y) (1) 7 Periklis Bousinakis (inj 45) (Y) 7 Subs Manolis Mavridis (GK), Nikos Mitrou, (on 63) 7 Alexandros Tziolis (on 45) 7, Vangelis Mantzios (on 45) (Y) 7, Filippos Darlas, Dimitris Kioliaras, Ilias Eleftheriadas

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Albania v Greece

World Cup Qualifying (Europe) Group 2, Matchday 1

Qemal Stafa (Tirana), Albania

19,475

Line Ups

Albania (4-3-2-1): Arjan Beqaj; Ervin Bulku, Nevil Dede, Geri Cipi, Elvin Beqiri; Paulin Dhembi, Altin Lala, Edwin Murati; Florian Mytraj, Skerdilaid Curri; Bledi Shkembi Subs: Elvis Agolli (GK), Arjan Pisha, Luan Pinari, Sokol Bulku, Ervin Skela, Devi Muka, Igli Tare.

Greece (3-5-2): Antonis Nikopolidis; Traianos Dellas, Michalis Kapsis, Sotiris Kyrgiakos; Thodoris Zagorakis, Stelios Venetidis, Angelos Basinas, Giorgos Karagounis, Vasilis Tsiartas; Angelos Charisteas, Zisis Vrysas Subs: Chritos Labakis (GK), Giorgos Georgiadis, Pantelis Kafes, Dimitris Papadopoulos, Takis Fyssas, Kostas Katsouranis, Stelios Giannakopoulos

With Greece having won Euro 2004, this was in fact their first match since that triumph. We knew we were in for a really hard game, but we felt we could still take something here. If we could remain unbeaten at home, we would have a good chance of getting a respectable placing, and that was really all we could hope for.

On 4 minutes, we won a corner, but Murati's kick was not the best and the Greek defecne were able to clear. The ball though only fell to Lala, and he set up Murati with a good chance for an early goal, but his effort was turned over by Nikopolidis, and the corner came to nothing. Hopefully though, we had shown we were going to make a game of this.

Charisteas had a chance for Greece, but his effort was poor and went well over the bar. Basinas had another chance for the Greeks on 23 minutes, as they started to dominate the match, but once more his effort went harmlessly over. It was important that we didnt allow the visitors to bully us into submission, and on 27 minutes Murati sent a cross into the area for Myrtaj but his header also was over the bar.

Ervin Bulku picked up a yellow card on the half hour for a trip on Tsiartas, and a few minutes later Beqri had the chance to give us the lead, but his effort was well wide in the end. On 39 minutes, Tsiartis came closest to opening the scoring, as he hit a superb effort from the edge of the area, but was denying a stunning goal by the crossbar, much to the relief of the home support.

The second half got off to a frantic start as Kyrgiakos stopped a certain goal for us, and then both Charisteas and Mrytaj found themselves in the referee's book. Just on the hour, Murati swung in a decent corner, but Dhembi's volley clipped the crossbar and went over. Seconds later Greece brought on Fyssas and Georgiadis for Venetidis and Tsiartis in a effort to freshen things up.

On 71 minutes, I replaced the limping Bulku with Pisha and threw on Tare up front for Shkembi. A minute later, Dhembi missed another good chance, and the match was quickly looking like it would end goalless. Three minutes from time, Nikopolidis saved a good effort from Lala after some good build up play from us, and that was the last real effort of the match.

A draw against the European Champions isn't a bad result on the face of it, and we did play well. Perhaps we should have won, but I cant help be slightly pleased with the overall performance and be encouraged by it.

How they played:

Albania (4-3-2-1): Arjan Beqaj 7; Ervin Bulku (off 71) 6, Nevil Dede 7, Geri Cipi 7, Elvin Beqiri (Y) 7; Paulin Dhembi 7, Altin Lala 7, Edwin Murati 7; Florian Mytraj (Y) 7 Skerdilaid Curri 6; Bledi Shkembi(Off 71) 7 Subs: Elvis Agolli (GK), Arjan Pisha (on 71) 7, Luan Pinari, Sokol Bulku, Ervin Skela, Devi Muka, Igli Tare (on 71) 7.

Greece (3-5-2): Antonis Nikopolidis (MoM) 8; Traianos Dellas 7, Michalis Kapsis 7, Sotiris Kyrgiakos 8; Thodoris Zagorakis 8, Stelios Venetidis (off 60) 7, Angelos Basinas 7, Giorgos Karagounis (off 72) 5, Vasilis Tsiartas (off 60) 7; Angelos Charisteas (Y) 7, Zisis Vrysas 7 Subs: Chritos Labakis (GK), Giorgos Georgiadis (on 60) 7, Pantelis Kafes (on 72) 7, Dimitris Papadopoulos, Takis Fyssas (on 60) 7, Kostas Katsouranis, Stelios Giannakopoulos

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Albania U-19's v Belarus U-19's

Friendly, Monday 6th September 2004

Loro Borici (Shkoder), Albania

1857

Line Ups

Albania (4-1-3-2): Gledis Sharra; Xhevahir Sukaj, Tefik Osmani, Aldo Guna, Mark Gjini; Rudolf Nurja; Andi Lila, Taulant Ismailaj, Florian Manastirliu; Krenar Kosumi, Arber Abilaliaj Subs: Gerti Sharra (GK), Enrik Dafa, Erjon Bajro, Arben Prelaj, Artur Qerolli, Enio Samarxhi, Behar Hoti, Mario Bytyci, Erald Pustina

Belrus (4-4-2): Dmitriy Leonchik; Alexey Shushkevich, Miroslav Zhuravel, Aleksandr Rybak, Mikhail Vyazhevich; Valeriy Velichko, Igor Boiko, Vladimir Kozlov, Dmitriy Sikorskiy; Vitaly Vasilecskiy, Andrey Demenkovets Subs: Anton Kostyukevich (GK), Sergey Rad'kov, Phillipp Kuznetsov, Dmitriy Yurkevich, Vitaliy Pavlyukovich, Artur Kuznetsov, Mikhail Markhel, Anatoliy Klimovich, Vladislav Dedyush

With the draw for the U'19 European Championship Qualifying having been made, we found ourselves in a group with Croatia, Norway and Ukraine. It was bound to be a tough test for our youngsters, but the hope was that having brought them together for these two friendlies would bring us a huge benefit. Certainly, Belarus were bound to be a much tougher test than Cayman, and should give us a decent enough guide as to how we might fare.

Only four minutes had passed when Gjini recieved a yellow card for moaning at the referee, and a few minutes later Belarus' Rybak suffered the same fate. It seemed the referee had fallen out of the wrong side of bed, and the players would have to take more care not to annoy the silly bugger. Ismailaj had a great chance to send us ahead after 10 minutes, but the Belarus keeper somehow got a finger to the ball to tip it over the bar. The resultant corner was wasted.

Six minutes later, the Belarus keeper was in action game, this time denying Kosumi and it was certainly a fiery start from us. The half though didnt last at the same pace, and soon fizzled out, as the sides went in at the break with the match goalless.

Four minutes into the second half though, the fans finally had a goal to celebrate. Lila played a through ball to Kosumi and he unselfishly set up Ismailaj and this time the keeper had no chance. It was a fine goal, and we were worthy of our lead I felt. Belarus' Kozlov became the third player to be booked in the 56th minute, and five minutes later we had a second goal.

Lila and [/b]Kosumi[/b] were again involved in the build up, before the later was up-ended in the area and a third Belarus player entered the referees little black book. Guna stepped up to take the kick, and calmly slotted it into the net. Guna had a chance of a second a few minutes later, but his effort was well over the bar in the end. Kosumi and Guna missed furhter chances, and the Belarussians did create a couple of half chances, but they never really threatened, and in the end we had a very good win against a decent side.

How They Played

Albania : Gledis Sharra 8; Xhevahir Sukaj 7, Tefik Osmani 7, Aldo Guna (1) 7, Mark Gjini (Y) 7; Rudolf Nurja 7; Andi Lila 8, Taulant Ismailaj (1) 8, Florian Manastirliu 7; Krenar Kosumi MoM 8, Arber Abilaliaj 7 Subs: Gerti Sharra (GK), Enrik Dafa, Erjon Bajro, Arben Prelaj, Artur Qerolli, Enio Samarxhi, Behar Hoti, Mario Bytyci, Erald Pustina

Belrus (4-4-2): Dmitriy Leonchik 8; Alexey Shushkevich (off 49) 7, Miroslav Zhuravel 7, Aleksandr Rybak (Y) (off 62) 7, Mikhail Vyazhevich (Y) 7; Valeriy Velichko (off 62) 7, Igor Boiko (off 62) 7, Vladimir Kozlov (Y) 7, Dmitriy Sikorskiy (off 45) 7; Vitaly Vasilecskiy (off 45) 7, Andrey Demenkovets 7 Subs: Anton Kostyukevich (GK), Sergey Rad'kov, Phillipp Kuznetsov (on 45) 7, Dmitriy Yurkevich (on 45) 7, Vitaliy Pavlyukovich (On 49) 7, Artur Kuznetsov (on 62) 7, Mikhail Markhel (on 62) 7, Anatoliy Klimovich, Vladislav Dedyush (on 62) 7

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Georgia U-21's v Albania U-21's

European U-21 Championship Group 2 Qualifier, Match Day 2, 7th September 2004

Boris Paichadze National Stadium (Tblisi), Georgia

19,637

Line Ups:

Georgia: (4-4-2) Mikheil Kaladze; Davit Beridze, Levan Lomidze, Mikheil Shengelia, David Djeladze; Irakkli Kobiashvili, Aleksandre Chanturia, Davir Mikadze, Irakli Mikadz; Kakha Shengelia, Irakkli Chitaia Subs: Zaza Labadze (GK), Avtandil Mikadze, Levan Mujiri, Davit Lobzhanidze, Mikheil Mikadze, Davit Chivadze, Kakhaber Tskipurishvili

Albania: (4-3-2-1) Dorian Ethemi; Debatik Currie, Bledar Shima, Armend Dallku, Atin Matelli; Artur Xhyra, Krenar Vokshi, Lorik Cana; Sokol Kacani, Ergys Shameti; Arben Ahmetaj Subs: Armando Paro (GK), Enri Ndreka, Ervin Buzi, Erogen Brajovic, Migen Taipi, Leonard Muzha, Alert Sejdini

Whilst we had been drawing at home with Greece, the Georgian Under-21's has been ripping their Turkish counterparts apart in Turkey, winning out by 3-1 and handing out a warning to the rest of the group. Our hopes and expectations therefore were not sky high, and if we could come away from here with a point, it would be a very good achievement indeed. My aim for these matches was still very simple, that being to find those players who has the potential to play for the full team and nurture then to reach that potential.

International football management is much tougher than at club level in many ways, especially at a smaller country. I cant just get a checkbook and buy players in, I have to make sure the right structure is in place that can tap into the source of playing potential the country has. To a great degree I am reliant on other people, and on the Albania FA upon whom the development of the game rested. I can only work with the recources I have available, although its clear to me that there is a small pool of talent here.

Whether that pool of talent could reach its potential was another matter, and this was just one very small step to finding that out. The Georgians, as you would pehaps expect, started much more strongly, and 20 minutes into the match they were ahead, and I began to fear the worst. Krenar Vokshi was carried off injured after just 28 minutes, which was a bit of a blow. His replacement, Ervin Buzi though was to go on to have an absolute blinder of a match, and ended up as Man of the Match. By half time we were still only trailing by that goal, and we were at least making a good account of ourselves and no-one was letting the side down.

As the match progressed, we were starting to dominate more and more, and finally with 53 minutes on the clock, we were level. Buzi was fully involved in the build up, and his was his final pass that set Kacani up with his chance, which he took very well and we had gained what I believed to be our just reward. Georgia were looking bewildered and bemused now, and had clearly run out of idea. Buzi was causing havoc, and it clear this player is knocking on the door of the full squad.

With 73 minutes gone, Buzi had danced his way into the area, only to be upended by a Georgian defender. Arben Ahmetaj blasted home the resultant spot kick, and we had the lead. Buzi did have the ball in the net as time ran out, but it was mysteriously chopped off for offide. Nevertheless, we held our lead, and in the end came away with an excellent and well deserved win that leaves us top of our group.

How They Played:

Georgia: (4-4-2) Mikheil Kaladze 9; Davit Beridze 5, Levan Lomidze 6, Mikheil Shengelia 7, David Djeladze (off 45) 7; Irakkli Kobiashvili (Y) 7, Aleksandre Chanturia (off 45) 7, Davir Mikadze 7, Irakli Mikadz 7; Kakha Shengelia (off 53) (1) 7, Irakkli Chitaia 7 Subs: Zaza Labadze (GK), Avtandil Mikadze, Levan Mujiri (on 45) 7, Davit Lobzhanidze (on 45) 76, Mikheil Mikadze, Davit Chivadze, Kakhaber Tskipurishvili (on 53) 7

Albania: (4-3-2-1) Dorian Ethemi 7; Debatik Currie 8, Bledar Shima 7, Armend Dallku 8, Atin Matelli 7; Artur Xhyra 7, Krenar Vokshi (inj 28) 7, Lorik Cana (Y) 9; Sokol Kacani(Y)(1) 9, Ergys Shameti 7; Arben Ahmetaj(1) 7 Subs: Armando Paro (GK), Enri Ndreka, Ervin Buzi (on 28) MoM 10, Erogen Brajovic, Migen Taipi, Leonard Muzha, Alert Sejdini

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Georgia v Albania

World Cup Qualifying (Europe) Group 2, Matchday 2

Boris Paichadze National Stadium (Tblisi), Georgia

65,198

Line Ups

Georgia (4-4-2): Giorgi Lomaia; Lasha Chelidze, Kakha Kaladze, Giorgi Shashiashvili, Zurab Khizanishvili; Lado Burduli, Georgi Kinkladze, Gocha Jamarauli, Levan Kobiashvili; Shota Arveladze, Alexander Iashvili Subs: Aleksandre Gogoberishvili, Levan Melkadze, David Kaspekashvili, Levan Tskitishvili, Giorgi Oniani, Vasil Gigiadze, Rati Aleksidze.

Albania (4-3-2-1): Arjan Beqaj; Ervin Bulku, Nevil Dede, Geri Cipi, Elvin Beqiri; Paulin Dhembi, Altin Lala, Edwin Murati; Florian Mytraj, Skerdilaid Curri; Bledi Shkembi Subs: Elvis Agolli (GK), Arjan Pisha, Klodian Duro, Rudolf Zedi, Ervin Skela, Devi Muka, Igli Tare.

The aim was to build on the draw with Greece, and use the inspiration from the U-21's win the previous night. Whether we could win here was a matter of opinion. The Georgians have one or two useful players, but I had to believe they were certainly not better that us and if they were it wasn't by much.

After a frantic start to the match, Georgia's Jamarauli was the first player to pick up a yellow. After just three minutes, it was to set the tone of the refereeing, which quite frankly was appalling. On five minutes we won the first corner of the match after Curri broke through the Georgian defence, but it was to come to nothing in the end.

Shashiashvili had the home sides first chance on eight minutes, but his header from a corner was well over the bar. Two minutes later, Khizanishvili became the second player to be yellow carded after bringing down Shkembi. Five minutes later, Kinkladze joined him in the book and any chance of free flowing football was being ruined by an overly fussy official, who was bringing great displeasure on himself from the home support.

The match was becoming bogged down in the midfield, with neither side really creating much in front of goal, on 25 minutes Curri became the first Albanian player into the referee's book and was quickly joined by Kobiashvili, the 4th Georgian to be booked. Just before halftime, Kinkladze hobbled off and his match was over. The half ended, and to be honest , apart from the bookings, it hadnt really begun.

Chelidze didnt show for the second half as the Georgian's seem to be falling apart physically. Six minutes into the half, Murati had the best chance of the game so far, but his weak shot was easily held by Lomaia. The match though was still struggling to find any real momentum, and on 57 minutes I replaced Curri with Muka

A few minutes later, Shashiashvili entered the referee's book, and not too long after Gogoberishvili joined his fellow teammates in the bad book. Myrtaj had a chance on 72 minutes but his effort was wide, and although the game was far from entertaining, we did seem to be making the best chances.

With four minutes left to play, Myrtaj entered the referee's book, and the man in balck wasnt finished yet as he took the name of Arveladze in injury time. In many ways it had been a dissapointing game of football, but I was happy enough to leave with what was a decent enough point, although I couldnt help feeling that with a little but of luck, we could have had all three.

How They Played

Georgia: Giorgi Lomaia 8; Lasha Chelidze (Y) (Inj 45) 7, Kakha Kaladze 7, Giorgi Shashiashvili (Y) 7, Zurab Khizanishvili (Y) 7; Lado Burduli (off 60) 7, Georgi Kinkladze (Inj 41) 7, Gocha Jamarauli (Y) 7, Levan Kobiashvili (Y) 7; Shota Arveladze (Y) 7, Alexander Iashvili 7 Subs: Aleksandre Gogoberishvili (on 41) (Y) 7, Levan Melkadze 7, David Kaspekashvili, Levan Tskitishvili 7, Giorgi Oniani, Vasil Gigiadze, Rati Aleksidze.

Albania (4-3-2-1): Arjan Beqaj 8; Ervin Bulku 7, Nevil Dede 7, Geri Cipi 8, Elvin Beqiri MoM 8; Paulin Dhembi 7, Altin Lala 8, Edwin Murati 8; Florian Mytraj (Y) 7, Skerdilaid Curri (off 57) (Y) 6; Bledi Shkembi 7 Subs: Elvis Agolli (GK), Arjan Pisha, Klodian Duro, Rudolf Zedi, Ervin Skela, Devi Muka (on 57) 7, Igli Tare.

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Phew!

It had been hectic start to my managerial career, and although not an outstanding one, it was certainly not in my own opinion, complete failure. The Under 21's have been impressive, but as one or two of them are escalated to the heights of the full squad, it will be interesting to see if they can keep their composure and built on their good start.

The Albanian supporters are starting to accept me now as well. They no longer converge outside the modest housing allocated to me by my employers, waving guns and chanting what uncannilly sounded like 'death, death death'. Of course, there is always that fear that they will resume their chanting should be stumble, and I have taken the liberty of buying a bullet proof vest. Just in case.

The next set of matches for the full team are in October with a very hard tie at home to Denmark which we will be lucky to take a point from, and then we travel to Kazakhstan for a match we must hope to win. The Under 21's of course have the same schedule, and if we can pick up four points as well, then they will be in a great position in the group.

For the Under-19's October is a huge month. We have a friendly at home to Croatia which will hopefully hone the players attitude towards the European Under 19 Championship Qualifying, in Moldova, where we face the hosts of course, and also Norway and the Ukraine. It will be a tough test, and its unlikely the side will qualify but they'll be giving it their best shot.

A quick point of interest on the club front, as Albania recieved a huge boost in the UEFA Cup as Dinamo overcame Martimo by 2-0 at home in the 1st leg, and now stand on the verge reaching the groups stages and guaranteeing four more matches in Europe for Albania. It would be quite an achievement if they could do it.

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Albania U19's v Croatia U19's

Friendly, Thursday 7th October 2004

Loro Borici (Shkoder), Albania

1945

Line Ups:

Albania U19s(4-1-3-2): Gerti Sharra; Xhevahir Sukaj, Erjon Bajro, Aldo Guna, Mark Gjini; Emiliano Cela; Andi Lila, Behar Hoti, Florian Manastirliu; Krenar Kosumi, Arber Abilaliaj Subs: Glend Tafaj (GK), Enrik Dafa, Andi Canaj, Arben Prelaj, Besmir Arifaj, Enio Samarxhi, Adonis Shala, Mario Bytyci, Dritan Deda

Croatia(3-5-2): Igor Kovacic; Zoran Tadic, Damir Knezevic, Ante Vukovic; Tomislav Bosnjak, Boris Petrovic, Ante Matic, Krunoslav Tomic, Mario Miletic; Marko Juric, Stjepan Knez Subs: Mario Vukovic (GK), Drazen Lovric, Miroslav Horvat, Hrovje Kolar, Zoran Zivkovic, Ivica Bogdan, Krunoslav Grgic, Tomislav Pranjic, Tomislav Tomic

A tough test for the Under 19's against a talented young Croatian side. This though was an ideal warm up for the Under 19 Qualifying mini tournament and would be a good yard stick for our side. With Gledis promoted to the U-21's, it was a big day for younger brother Gerti Sharra as the still 16 year old would be making his debut at this level, but I felt sure he would not be overawed. This was a young lad who could go far in the game.

We started the game well enough, and the first real chance fell to Florian Manastirliu but his effort was poor and flew over the bar. A few minutes later Abilaliaj saw a shot got wide of the post, and at least we were making chances and were looking positive.

On 18 minutes the Croats won their first corner as they started to come more and more into the match, but this one was to come to nothing. On the half hour, as the Croats took over the game they finally had the ball in the net, Juric with the final touch. Luckily for us the goal was ruled out for offisde. And despite the growing confidence and domination of the young Croats, we managed to reach half time with the match still goalless.

It seemed almost inevitable though that the visitors would score, and just three minutes after the restart, they finally did as a Petrovic shot rebounded off the bar to fall at the feet of Knez who thundered the ball home. On 65 minutes, Pranjic added a second and the Croatians looked like running away with the game now. Yet just four minutes later we had a lifeline, Krenar Kosumi heading home from an Abilaliaj cross.

I decided to make a couple of changes, bringing off Hoti and Guna and replacing them with Shala and [/b] Dafa[/b]. Only a few minutes later, Pranjic got a third and it was clear this was a match we were not going to win. It hadnt been the best performance from us, but nevertheless it was clear we had been outplayed by a much better team. Now we just had to hope we had learned something to see us through the Qualifying group.

How They Played:

Albania U19s(4-1-3-2): Gerti Sharra 6; Xhevahir Sukaj 7, Erjon Bajro 7, Aldo Guna (off 70) 6, Mark Gjini (Y) 7; Emiliano Cela 7; Andi Lila 7, Behar Hoti (off 70) 5, Florian Manastirliu 7; Krenar Kosumi (1) 7, Arber Abilaliaj Subs: Glend Tafaj (GK), Enrik Dafa (on 70) 7, Andi Canaj, Arben Prelaj, Besmir Arifaj, Enio Samarxhi, Adonis Shala (on 70) 7, Mario Bytyci, Dritan Deda

Croatia(3-5-2): Igor Kovacic 7; Zoran Tadic (off 65) 7, Damir Knezevic 8, Ante Vukovic 7; Tomislav Bosnjak (off 63) 7, Boris Petrovic 7, Ante Matic (off 48) 7, Krunoslav Tomic 8, Mario Miletic (off 63) 7; Marko Juric (off 65) 7, Stjepan Knez (off 63) M0M (1) 8 Subs: Mario Vukovic (GK), Drazen Lovric, Miroslav Horvat (on 65) 7, Hrovje Kolar (on 63) 6, Zoran Zivkovic (on 48) 7, Ivica Bogdan, Krunoslav Grgic (on 63) 6, Tomislav Pranjic (on 63) (2) 8, Tomislav Tomic (on 65) 7

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Albania U-21's v Denmark U-21's

European U-21 Chammpionship Group 2 Qualifier, Match Day 3, Friday 8th October

Loro Borici (Shkoder), Albania

4371

Line Ups:

Albania: (4-3-2-1) Gledis Sharra; Debatik Currie, Bledar Shima, Armend Dallku, Atin Matelli; Ilir Kalari, Marenglen Kule, Lorik Cana; Sokol Kacani, Ergys Shameti; Taulant Ismailaj Subs: Dorian Ethemi (GK), Enri Ndreka, Edlir Tetova, Erogen Brajovic, Migen Taipi, Leonard Muzha, Tefil Osmani

Denmark (3-2-3-1) Kasper Schmeichel; Jeppe Brandrup, Daniel Agger,Michael Jakobsen, Martin Bergvold; Mikkel Thygesen, Rasmus Wurtz; Peter Benjaminson, Martin Bernburg, Bajram Fetai; Jeppe Lund Curth Subs: Jesper (GK), Fatih Kirik, Sebastian Svard, Martin E. Jensen, Morten Friss, Kasper Lorentzen, Jonas Troest

There was no we would be in for another tough match against a quality Danish side, but so far its safe to say that the Under 21's had done very well and I fully expected they wouldnt let us down tonight. Just three minutes into the match, and another referee who wanted to impose his 'authority' early on as Curri found himself yellow carded for very little to be honest.

The first real chance of the match came after eight minutes, but Kacani's effort was well wide of the goal. Six minutes later Cana mamaged a shot on goal but Brandrup was able to get in the way of his effort and the resulting corner kick came to nothing. A few minutes late Fetai went into the referee's book and Cana again saw a shot on goal deflected wide. You certainly couldnt fault the effort my players were putting in.

A goal didnt seem too far away if we could just keep applying the pressure, and when it did come it was one to savour. Curri knocked the ball from the edge of our penalty to area to thwart a dangerous Danish attack, and Ismailaj picked up the loose ball midway inside his own half. Flicking it out left to Shameti who on turn found Kacani who cut diagonally into the penatly area, skipped passed Brandrup and blasted the ball well beyond Schmeichel.

Cana and Ismailaj had good chances to add to our lead before half time, but neither chances was taken and we win in at the break having being totally the dominant side, but with only that single slender goal to show for it.

The second half started much as the first one, as Kacani forced the Danish keeper into a save after just two minutes. Denmakr did have a chance a few minutes later though Wurtz but his effort was woefull and sailed high over the bar and into the back of the stand, and a minute after that Cana had a virtual replay at the opposite end.

As the match entered that last 15 minutes or so, Denmark were starting to up the ante as they piled on the pressure, and there were fears all our excellent hard work would be undone. The the credit of the defence, and U-21 debut keeper Sharra, the held resolutely firm, and the Danes were denied. Just inside injury time as we finally managed to create another chance, another debut boy, Ismailaj capped his fine performance with a goal, and we had deservedly taken another giant leap nearer the Euro U-21 finals.

How They Played:

Albania: Gledis Sharra 7; Debatik Currie (Y) 8, Bledar Shima 8, Armend Dallku 8, Atin Matelli 7; Ilir Kalari (off 63) 6, Marenglen Kule 8, Lorik Cana 7; Sokol Kacani MoM (1) 10, Ergys Shameti 7; Taulant Ismailaj (1) 7 Subs: Dorian Ethemi (GK), Enri Ndreka, Edlir Tetova (on 73) 7, Erogen Brajovic, Migen Taipi, Leonard Muzha, Tefil Osmani

Denmark Kasper Schmeichel 8; Jeppe Brandrup (off 73) 7, Daniel Agger 7,Michael Jakobsen 7, Martin Bergvold (off 61) 7; Mikkel Thygesen 7, Rasmus Wurtz 7; Peter Benjaminson 7, Martin Bernburg (off 61) 7, Bajram Fetai (Y) 7 Jeppe Lund Curth 7 Subs: Jesper (GK), Fatih Kirik, Sebastian Svard, Martin E. Jensen (on 61) 7 , Morten Friss, Kasper Lorentzen (on 61) 7, Jonas Troest( on 73) 7

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Peacemaker7:

Bugger I never thought of that, the daughters are all dogs, I'll have to find a pretty one icon_wink.gif <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Whilst over there I found that there was a high proportion of attractive young women (though not a high as amongst the Serbs -a walk through Belgrade is enough to reduce any man to the state of gibbering buffoon). However, once past 30 or so, it seems most Albanian women turn to pot. Or so it looked.

I have one problem with your under-21 side: Lorik Cana. Parisien de merde. icon_wink.gif

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Albania v Denmark

World Cup Qualifying (Europe) Group 2 Matchday 3

Qemal Stafa (Tirana), Albania

19,478

Line Ups:

Albania (4-3-2-1): Arjan Beqaj; Ervin Bulku, Nevil Dede, Geri Cipi, Elvin Beqiri; Paulin Dhembi, Altin Lala, Edwin Murati; Armando Zani, Skerdilaid Curri; Bledi Shkembi Subs: Elvis Agolli (GK), Arjan Pisha, Klodian Duro, Rudolf Zedi, Ervin Skela, Devi Muka, Igli Tare.

Denmark (4-2-3-1): Thomas Sorensen; Thomas Helveg, Niclas Jensen, Martin Laursen, Thomas Gaardsoe; Claus Jensen, Thomas Gravesen; Dennis Rommedahl, Jesper Gronkjaer, Daniel Jensen; Jon Dahl Tomasson Subs: Stephan Andersen (GK), Henrik Pedersen, Jan Kristiansen, Martin Albrechtsen, Peter Lovenkrands, Thomas Kahlenberg, Soren Colding

There was a hug sense of anticipation as the Danes rolled into Tirana, boosted by the amazing performance the previous night of the Under 21's. If the full side could match them for commitement, then Albanians would be more than happy, and the result might well be positive. With Albania having gained very good draws with Greece and Georgia and Denmark having drawn their only match in the group so far, at home to Ukraine, forecasting a draw for this match wouldnt have been out of the park.

Nevertheless, although a draw would be a good result, I really wanted a win to show the rest of Europe that were no longer just here to make up the numbers. The Danes though had not come here for a draw, and in the opening minute they made their intentions clear as they put our defence under heavy pressure, winning a corner. Gronkjaers flighted ball was curling right in on goal, but Beqaj was able to tip it over the bar and the second corner was to come to nothing.

The natch was flowing from end to end, with both sides making chances and on 13 minutes, Zani became the first player to go into the referee's book for diving, a rather harsh decision as the player was clearly tripped. Lala had a glorious chance to open the scoring on 16 minutes, but his effort was just wide in the end, and a couple of minutes later Cipi made a perfectly timed last ditch challenge to stop Gravesen at the other end.

Gravesen again missed on 20 minutes, and then with 25 minutes gone we had a penalty. Laursen had fouled Shkembi and although it may have seemed a tad harsh, that didnt stop Zabi blasting the ball home to the delight of the Albanian crowd. Denmark almost levelled on 37 minutes when Tomasson's effort beat our keeper and was heading into the net when Cipi again came to the rescue and come half time we had a slender but probably deserved lead.

Murati almost made it 2-0 ten minutes after the restart as his free kick deflected off the wall, but Sorensen managed to save it despite that, and then three minutes later disaster struck. Daniel Jensen took a clear dive in the area, and the referee, probably in an attempt to redress the balance as they are prone to do, pointed at the spot. Gravensen took the kick and Denmark were undeservedly level.

As Denmark seemed to be a grip of the game, I replaced Curri with Muka on 67 minutes, and six minutes later Murati sent us back in front with a great solo effort. With the Albanian crowd now dancing with delight, the Danes tried in vain to get a second equalizer but the defence soaked up the pressure and we pulled off a quite remarkable triumph.

How They Played:

Albania: Arjan Beqaj 7; Ervin Bulku, 7 Nevil Dede 7, Geri Cipi MOM 9, Elvin Beqiri 8; Paulin Dhembi 7, Altin Lala 7, Edwin Murati (1) 8; Armando Zani (Y) (1) 7, Skerdilaid Curri (off 67) 6; Bledi Shkembi 7 Subs: Elvis Agolli (GK), Arjan Pisha, Klodian Duro, Rudolf Zedi, Ervin Skela, Devi Muka (on 67) 7, Igli Tare.

Denmark: Thomas Sorensen 6; Thomas Helveg 7, Niclas Jensen 7, Martin Laursen 7, Thomas Gaardsoe (off 80) 7; Claus Jensen 7, Thomas Gravesen (1) 7; Dennis Rommedahl 7, Jesper Gronkjaer (off 70) 8, Daniel Jensen (off 70) 8; Jon Dahl Tomasson 7 Subs: Stephan Andersen (GK), Henrik Pedersen, Jan Kristiansen (on 70) 7 Martin Albrechtsen (on 80) (Y) 7, Peter Lovenkrands, Thomas Kahlenberg (on 70) 7, Soren Colding

<pre class="ip-ubbcode-code-pre">

| Pos | Inf | Team | | Pld | Won | Drn | Lst | For | Ag | G.D. | Pts |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 1st | | Turkey | | 3 | 3 | 0 | 0 | 7 | 1 | +6 | 9 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 2nd | | Ukraine | | 3 | 2 | 1 | 0 | 7 | 3 | +4 | 7 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 3rd | | Albania | | 3 | 1 | 2 | 0 | 2 | 1 | +1 | 5 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 4th | | Denmark | | 2 | 0 | 1 | 1 | 2 | 3 | -1 | 1 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 5th | | Georgia | | 2 | 0 | 1 | 1 | 1 | 3 | -2 | 1 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 6th | | Greece | | 3 | 0 | 1 | 2 | 1 | 4 | -3 | 1 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| 7th | | Kazakhstan | | 2 | 0 | 0 | 2 | 1 | 6 | -5 | 0 |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

| | | | | | | | | | | | |

| ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

</pre>

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  • 3 months later...

Kazakhstan U-21's v Albania U-21's

European U-21 Championship Group 2 Qualifier, Mtach Day 4, Tuesday 12th October 2004

Central (Almaty), Kazakhstan

6388

Line Ups:

Kazakhstan (4-4-2) Eugeny Tarasov; Vladimir Tarasov, Andrey Zakharov, Denis Moskalenko, Marat Bogomolov; Vladimir Novikov, Vladimir Kim, Vitaly Guseinov, Andrey Pak; Vladimir Loria, Sergey Iskakov Subs: Euegeny Aliev (GK), Yury Badlo, Maxim Sakhalbaev, Alexandr Proskuyrin, Yury Guseinov, Igor Ismailov, Eugeny Pak

Albania (4-3-2-1) Gledis Sharra; Tefik Osmani, Bledar Shima, Armend Dallku, Altin Matelli; Ilir Kalari, Marenglen Kule, Lorik Cana; Sokol Kacani, Ergys Shameti; Taulant Ismailaj Subs: Dorian Ethemi (GK), Enri Ndreka, Edlir Tetova, Erogen Brajovic, Migen Taipi, Leonard Muzha, Albert Sejdini

With the great win over Denmark under our belts, it was with high confidence that we travelled to Kazakhstan expecting three more points that would take us that step closer to a shock qualification for the Finals. It would a great achievement of course, but as the match wore on it became clear that if we wanted to win this, we were going to have to dig deep into our resources.

Kazakhstan were putting up a solid defensive wall, and our strikers were finding it much harder to find the space, and when the chance did come the home keeper was in fantastic form, as he saved everything that was aimed at him. It looked like we would have to settle for a draw, which would still of course be a decent enough result. Two minutes from the end though, the Kazak's broke upfield and Vladimir Loria casually sent the ball home as if it was his right to do so after we had dominated so much of this match. It was a painful way for the youngsters to be brought back to earth and it shows that we still have an awful lot of work to do if we want to play with the big boys.

How They Played:

Kazakhstan Eugeny Tarasov MoM 9; Vladimir Tarasov 8, Andrey Zakharov 7, Denis Moskalenko 7, Marat Bogomolov 7; Vladimir Novikov (off 60) 7, Vladimir Kim, (off 72) 6 Vitaly Guseinov 7, Andrey Pak 7; Vladimir Loria (1), Sergey Iskakov (off 60) Subs: Euegeny Aliev (GK), Yury Badlo, Maxim Sakhalbaev, Alexandr Proskuyrin (on 72) 7, Yury Guseinov (on 60) 7, Igor Ismailov, Eugeny Pak (on 60) 7

Albania (4-3-2-1) Gledis Sharra 7; Tefik Osmani 8, Bledar Shima 8, Armend Dallku 8, Altin Matelli 7; Ilir Kalari (Y) 6, Marenglen Kule 7, Lorik Cana 7; Sokol Kacani 7, Ergys Shameti 7; Taulant Ismailaj (Y) 7 Subs: Dorian Ethemi (GK), Enri Ndreka, Edlir Tetova, Erogen Brajovic, Migen Taipi, Leonard Muzha, Albert Sejdini

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Kazakhstan v Albania

World Cup Qualifying (Europe), Group 2, Match Day 4

Central (Almaty), Kazakhstan

23,958

Line Ups

Kazakhstan: (4-4-2): Oleg Moskalenko; Konstantin Kusainov, Victor Pushkov, Vladimir Mukhametkarimov, Vladimir Loria; Alexandr Avakyanc, Sergey Rodionov, Yury Loginovskiy, Dmitry Loria; Eugeny Rodionov, Vitaly Kim Subs: Sergey Blitznyuk (GK), Igor Kusainov, Victor Moskalenko, Dmitry Zarechny, Dmitry Pak, Sergey Ganzhenko, Oleg Iskakov

Albania (4-3-2-1): Arjan Beqaj; Ervin Bulku, Nevil Dede, Geri Cipi, Elvin Beqiri; Paulin Dhembi, Altin Lala, Edwin Murati; Armando Zani, Skerdilaid Curri; Florian Myrtaj Subs: Elvis Agolli (GK), Arjan Pisha, Klodian Duro, Rudolf Zedi, Ervin Skela, Devi Muka, Igli Tare.

With the U-21's result having handed us a fair warning, the full side went out knowing that this could so easily be the match that undid all our excellent work so far. Buoyed by their U-21 success, the Kazak's got off to a flying start and forced an early corner, although thankfully it came to nothing in the end. It was just the kick we needed though to erase any linger complacency, and we created two great chances ourselves in the next five minutes or so. Our pressure was soon to pay off, as with eleven minutes gone, Edwin Murati swung in a perfect corner which Geri Cipi bulleted past the helpless home keeper.

As we continued to pressure and out play the home side, so the chances continued to present themselves, and with 20 minutes gone a fine piece of play from Florian Myrtaj set up Altin Lala with a great chance which he didn't pass up. It should have been plain sailing now, but Kazakhstan were determined to take somethung from this game as they battled their way back in, and three minutes from half time they pulled a goal back.

It would have been so easy for our side to collapse, but they showed real character as they survived an early second half storm before recovering their grip on the match. Although our domination failed to produce anymore goals, nevertheless we held on for an excellent win, and maintain our shock push to reach our first ever World Cup Finals.

How They Played:

Kazakhstan: Oleg Moskalenko (MoM) 9; Konstantin Kusainov 6, Victor Pushkov 7, Vladimir Mukhametkarimov (Y) 7, Vladimir Loria (Y) 7; Alexandr Avakyanc (off 60) 7, Sergey Rodionov (Y) (off 60) 7, Yury Loginovskiy 7, Dmitry Loria (Y) 7; Eugeny Rodionov 7, Vitaly Kim (off 71) Subs: Sergey Blitznyuk (GK), Igor Kusainov, Victor Moskalenko (on 60) 7, Dmitry Zarechny (on 60) 7, Dmitry Pak, Sergey Ganzhenko, Oleg Iskakov (on 71) (Y) 7

Albania: Arjan Beqaj 7; Ervin Bulku (inj 60) 7, Nevil Dede 7, Geri Cipi (1) 8, Elvin Beqiri 9; Paulin Dhembi (Y) 7, Altin Lala (Y) (1) 8, Edwin Murati 7; Armando Zani 7, Skerdilaid Curri (off 60) 6; Florian Myrtaj 7 Subs: Elvis Agolli (GK), Arjan Pisha (On 60) 7, Klodian Duro, Rudolf Zedi, Ervin Skela, Devi Muka, Igli Tare (on 60) 7.

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UEFA U-19 Championships, 1st Qualifying Round, Group 5

Norway, Ukraine, Moldova, Albania

16th, 20th & 23rd October 2004

All matches played at Republican Stadium, (Chisnau), Moldova

A fairly tough grouping for the under -19's, but at least it would give us a measure of where we stood. Thanks to UEFA being utter bastards, we were forced to be without three of our best under 19 players in Taulant Ismailaj, Gledis Sharra and Tefik Osmani as they had been including in the U-21 squad for a week earlier. Utter nonsense really.

Nevertheless I felt we had one or two promising youngsters still, and it would be interesting to see how they would go in my first competitive matches since taking charge. Our first match was against Norway, a game in which we had to endure a lot of pressure. For most of the match, it was a fair backs to the wall stuff, but incredibly we managed to hold out and earned what was in the end a very good nil all draw.

Our second match would be with the Ukranians, who had lost 2-1 in their opening tie with the hosts Moldova, who would also hold Norway to a goalless draw. With the top two qualifying, along with the best third placed side, we knew that if we could get a point against Ukraine we had a good chance of going through. A stunning start saw Krenar Kosumi send us into a 3rd minute lead, and just nine minutes later he added a second. It was a match we had the upper hand in, and although we couldn't match the early goals, nevertheless held on for a great 2-0 win.

We went into the final match, against Moldova, knowing that a draw would take us to the 2nd qualifying phase. An injury meant we were able to call up a replacement, and so 17 year old striker Taulant Ismailaj finally got the chance to join up with us. With 2 U-21 caps, the youngster is probably the brightest prospect in Albanian football, but after just 13 minutes he fluffed a spot kick to deny us the lead. Undaunted though by the miss, the teenager had netted twice by the break and on 72 minutes completed his hattrick. With three minutes left, and not to be completely outdone, Krenar Kosumi added a 4th and we romed into the next phase.

We won't get it quite so easy there, as there is only one qualifying place up for grabs. Not forgetting that we have much tougher opposition in the shape of France, Switzerland and Georgia. It should be a great experience though for the kids, and can only help them improve.

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