During the 80s, no other national team had played as few friendlies as Albania had. This was of course due to the fact that their great leader and dictator Enver Hoxha did not want his fellow countrymen to enjoy any contact whatsoever with the outside world. One felt that they only reluctantly were participating in qualifications for UEFA and FIFA tournaments. They had lost all six of their matches during the qualification for the 1988 European Championships (against Spain, Romania and Austria), and were again expected to provide four rather comfortable points for all of Poland, Sweden and England in qualifying Group 2 of the UEFA zone for Italia’90. Manager was re-appointed KS 17 Nëntori Tirana boss Shyqyri Rreli, who had also been in charge of affairs from ’82 to ’85, and he would be taking a good few of his squad with him into the national team. Read more . . .
World Cup appearances:
K. Warzycha (78′)
Despite being on the back foot for larger portions of the game, Albania can take pride in the way they battled, and they were never overawed. Perhaps they are not the whipping boys this group had thought beforehand.
Line-up (5-4-1): Mersini – Alimehmeti, Lekbello, Hodja, Gega, Jera – Minga (c), Josa, Demollari, Millo – Shehu (Stoja 70).
They fight well, the Albanians, and they seem confident from kick-off against a side that had done very well at Wembley and kept England scoreless only a week and a half earlier. Shehu’s goal made sure Albania built momentum, and they could have scored further goals, but for some indecision among the forwards. Sweden make a lucky substitution in bringing forward Holmqvist on in a wide midfield role, and once he scores the equalizer, Albania’s heads seem to drop. Not long after the home side go behind, and from then on they’re unable to claw their way back.
Line-up (5-4-1): Mersini – Zmijani, Lekbello, Hodja, Gega, Jera – Minga (c), Josa, Demollari, Millo – Shehu.
Line-up: Shkurti (Dosti 76) – Zmijani, Hodja, Lekbello (Stafa h-t), Jera – Demollari, Gega, Josa (Kepa 69), Millo – Shehu (Majaci 65), Minga (c).
England were aggressive right from the start, never let Albania time to settle, and so the home team could never build a rhythm. They had done their home-work on Albania, had England. Shehu tried to get in behind the visiting defence using his pace, but Walker was alert, and Shilton impossible to get past.
Line-up (5-4-1): Mersini – Zmijani, Lekbello, Hodja, Gega, Jera – Minga (c), Josa, Demollari, Millo (Majaci 77) – Shehu.
Beardsley (12′, 64′)
Without a couple of their key players, Albania arrived in London hoping to keep the score down. They were realistic about their chances, and giving debut to a 17 year old goalkeeper was a brave (or foolish!) move by manager Rreli. However, the youngster between the sticks performed admirably on such a stage, and it was never his fault that they conceded five. Albania were never disgraced, and had what seemed a perfectly good goal disallowed towards the end of the first half when 2-0 down.
Line-up (5-3-2): Nallbani – Zmijani, Lekbello, Hodja (c), Gega, Jera – Demollari, Hasanpapa (Noga 32), Millo – Bubeqi, Shehu.
Kushta (9′ pen.)
An expected defeat, but Albania did take the lead through an early penalty, and they did seem to know what tactics to use in order to get in behind the Swedish defence, as Larsson was often too high up in the pitch. In Kushta, they seemed to have the perfect player to take advantage, as he usually sought this territory. However, the home side gradually took over, and the Albanian midfield was unable to cope with the relentless Swedish possession and eventually pressure. Again, they battled well, but were not quite good enough to bring back a point.
Line-up (5-4-1): Mersini – Zmijani, Lekbello (Noga 76), Hodja (c), Taho, Jera – Josa, Gega (Arberi 88), Millo, Demollari – Kushta.
For this Albania’s final qualifier, Rreli had brought in a few new players, with Xhumba, Iljadhi and Pano all given starts, the former indeed appearing at full international level for the first time ever. Their ambition must have been to avoid defeat for the first time in six, and they lined up once again with a five man strong defensive line. Pano was unfortunate as his fine, dipping early effort struck the crossbar with Bako beaten. Albania were quite direct, and should’ve gone ahead when Bubeqi misfired from close range after some terrific approach work by Kushta. Instead, they fell behind on the stroke of h-t, as a poor Kosecki shot found its way through to an unmarked Tarasiewicz, who finished expertly. We only have a few second half minutes to go on, but Albania do appear to give it a go early on. They’ll eventually get their equalizer through an admittedly weak Kushta strike following a cushioned Demollari header, but they still won’t get their precious point thanks to a late sucker punch against.
Line-up (5-3-2): Nallbani – Zmijani, Xhumba, Hodja (c), Iljadhi, Jera – Josa (Arberi 60), Pano (Kepa 74), Demollari – Kushta, Bubeqi.
Six defeats from six. That was surely a disappointment to manager Shyqyri Rreli and his staff, even if they had faced some stiff competition. They’d lost by a one goal margin in three of their games, and at home they had given an optimistic account of themselves and had proved tough to beat. Yet, no point in return had been poor.
There had been consistency in team selection, with no less than ten players starting four games or more. Albania had played with five at the back throughout, and their libero, Skënder Hodja, had emerged with credit after his performances. The same could be said for fine midfielder Sulejman Demollari and fine defender Artur Lekbello, who perhaps lacked in consistency, but certainly showed in glimpses that he had ability. Demollari, by the way, had been unfortunate in having a perfectly executed goal at Wembley taken away from him during their 5-0 loss, easily their biggest of the qualification. Eccentric goalkeeper Halim Mersimi played four matches and was top ranked Albanian in our player ratings.
25 players had been in use altogether, though nine of these would only get one appearance. Albania were a little naïve in their approach, and some players did not always seem to have appetite for a battle. Yet, they clearly have some talented footballers in their ranks, so despite the fact that they lost each and every game in the Italia ’90 qualification, all’s not doom and gloom.
Number of players used: 25
Number of players including unused substitutes: 31
Ever-presents (540 mins): 3 (Hodja, Jera, Demollari)
Leading goalscorer: Sokol Kushta (2)
Yellow/red cards: 6/0
– game by game
|Player||Pol (a)||Swe (h)||Eng (h)||Eng (a)||Swe (a)||Pol (h)||Apps||Mins|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
Renowned for the fact that they rarely played friendlies in this era of their footballing history, Albania would not be in international action again until 30 May 1990, when they had travelled to Iceland in order to commence their qualification for the 1992 European Championships. By then, they had replaced manager Shyqyri Rreli with Bejkush Birçe, who had previously been in charge of Partizani, one of the three major Tirana clubs.