Tirana Times: Albania complains over inappropriate stadium for away Macedonia qualifier

Albania’s Football Association says that due to security concerns, Europe’s football governing body, UEFA, has decided the upcoming Macedonia-Albania World Cup qualifier will be played in a small stadium “not meeting international standards.”

UEFA has decided the September 5 qualifier between the two neighboring countries will be played in Mladost Stadium in Strumica town, east of the country close to Macedonia’s border with Bulgaria, and not in capital city Skopje, apparently to avoid any possible fan conflict considering the sizeable presence of the ethnic Albanian population in Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a third of the 2 million population in Macedonia, where ethnic tensions are still present.

The Albanian football association describes the 6,500-seat stadium renovated more than a decade ago as not suitable to handle a World Cup qualifier. The small capacity stadium would also limit the presence of Albanian fans to only a few hundreds considering limits for away supporters.

“Under the circumstances of a delicate match, UEFA set up its own inspection team to watch to Strumica stadium, a sports complex that does not meet any of the international standards for an official qualifier,” the Albanian Football Association said in statement after complaining to UEFA.

“In their later confirmation and after a working group inspection, UEFA decided on security grounds that next September’s Macedonia-Albania will be played in the Strumica stadium and not in Skopje, arguing that the Strumica stadium provides much more security for fans compared to National Arena Filip II of Macedonia,” the association added.

The small number of fans will be a barrier for Albania in the September second leg qualifier.

Macedonia has proved tough on home soil in the World Cup qualification campaign with Italy needing an injury time goal to make it 3-2 and Spain narrowly winning 2-1.

Albania also needed a late header by Bekim Balaj to win 2-1 in their opening World Cup qualification campaign against Macedonia in Sept. 2016. The home victory came as the qualifier was initially abandoned at a 1-1 draw due to torrential rain and the game’s remaining 14 minutes at the Shkodra stadium were played the next day.

Albania played their opening World Cup qualification campaign in the newly reconstructed 16,000-seat Loro Boriçi stadium in Shkodra in a match with no crowd problems. The qualifier was also a small ‘Albanian derby’ as Macedonia had called up four ethnic Albanian players while Albania featured one Macedonia-born ethnic Albania player.

Albania’s World Cup campaign received a boost last June after the national side beat Israel 3-0 in an away qualifier to avenger the first-leg home defeat.

The away victory temporary places Albania third with 9 points, leading Israel on goal difference in a tough group stage that also features former world champions Italy and Spain who seem unrivalled in the top two finish.

The national side now faces the issue of finding a new coach who will replace Italian Gianni De Biasi after his unexpected resignation following the Israel victory. The 61-year-old Italian led Albania for the past five and a half years including a historic first-ever appearance at a major tournament such as Euro 2016.

Albania’s football association, which has been examining several Italian coaches to find De Biasi’s successor, says it will decide on the new coach within this month.

The Albanian national side will play home to modest Liechtenstein on Sept. 2 before facing neighbouring Macedonia three days later in an away qualifier. The Red & Blacks will conclude their qualification campaign in October 2017 with two tough fixtures against former world champions Spain and Italy.

SOURCE: Tirana Times


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