Albania – Qualification for Italia ’90

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Preview

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. They were reigning Albanian champions, and were favourites to retain the title for the 1988/89 season.

Rreli was expected to feature a fairly young team, with lots of players only in their infancy as far as international football went. Therefore, expectations were not high. Rreli would be able to work without a lot of pressure, even if the Tirana crowd was infamous for being very partizan during internationals. Coming to Albania was hardly the easiest of tasks for visiting teams, although Albania would struggle to hang on to a point, let alone win. Only Belgium and Finland had lost in Tirana during the 1980s, both by the margin of 2-0.

Rreli would have to make do without strong forward Shkëlqim Muça, who had retired from international football after the European Championship qualifiers. The 17 Nëntori striker would leave a vacancy behind, and it would be up to newly appointed captain Arbën Minga to replace him. It was also thought they would look to a third striker from the Tirana club: Agustin Kola had a decent goalscoring record for the national team, but was inexplicably left out, albeit Rreli could have been suspected for wanting to give younger players the opportunity. And so, Partizani forward Shehu was drafted into the picture. Between the sticks there would be another newcomer in 17 Nëntori’s Halim Mersini, taking over from Perlat Musta, who had been a mainstay in the side during the 80s. Skënder Hodja had started to emerge as the country’s leading defender, and Rreli would again draw experience from seasoned pro Mirel Josa in a midfield role. Another important player during the qualification for Italia ’90 would be Sulejman Demollari, a more attacking midfielder who had already been representing the national team for a few seasons.

Albania would be expected to play either 5-4-1 or 4-5-1, trying to hit their opponents on the counter. They realized they were nowhere near good enough to try and compete with the other group participants possession wise.

Results

Friendly
06.08.1988 Albania 0-0 Cuba
Line-up: Mersini (Shkurti h-t) – Zmijani, Hodja, Gega, Jera – Kushta, Josa, Demollari, Millo (Taho h-t) – Minga, Kola

Friendly 
20.09.1988 Romania 3-0 Albania
Line-up: Mersini – Lekbello, Hodja, Taho, Jera – Kepa (Bubeqi 80), Josa, Gega, Kola (Millo h-t) – Shehu (Kushta 38), Minga (c)

Qualifier 1
19.10.1988 Poland 1-0 Albania
Line-up (5-4-1): Mersini – Alimehmeti, Lekbello, Hodja, Gega, Jera – Minga (c), Josa, Demollari, Millo – Shehu (Stoja 70)
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.

Qualifier 2
05.11.1988 Albania 1-2 Sweden
Line-up (5-4-1): Mersini – Zmijani, Lekbello, Hodja, Gega, Jera – Minga (c), Josa, Demollari, Millo – Shehu
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.

Friendly
18.01.1989 Albania 1-1 Greece
Goal: Minga
Line-up: Shkurti (Dosti 76) – Zmijani, Hodja, Lekbello (Stafa h-t), Jera – Demollari, Gega, Josa (Kepa 69), Millo – Shehu (Majaci 65), Minga (c)

Qualifier 3
08.03.1989 Albania 0-2 England
Line-up (5-4-1): Mersini – Zmijani, Lekbello, Hodja, Gega, Jera – Minga (c), Josa, Demollari, Millo (Majaci 77) – Shehu
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.

Qualifier 4
26.04.1989 England 5-0 Albania
Line-up (5-3-2): Nallbani – Zmijani, Lekbello, Hodja (c), Gega, Jera – Demollari, Hasanpapa (Noga 32), Millo – Bubeqi, Shehu
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.

Qualifier 5
08.10.1989 Sweden 3-1 Albania
Line-up (5-4-1): Mersini – Zmijani, Lekbello (Noga 76), Hodja (c), Taho, Jera – Josa, Gega (Arberi 88), Millo, Demollari – Kushta
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.

Qualifier 6
15.11.1989 Albania 1-2 Poland
Line-up (5-3-2): Nallbani – Zmijani, Ilhiadi, Hodja (c), Xhumba, Jera – Demollari, Josa (Arberi 60), Pano (Kepa 74) – Kushta, Bubeqi

Conclusion

Final position: 4 (out of 4)
Total record: 6 0 0 6 3-15 0
Home record: 3 0 0 3 2-6 0
Away record: 3 0 0 3 1-9 0

Player statistics

Number of players used: 25
Number of players including unused substitutes: 30
Ever-presents (540 mins): 3 (Hodja, Jera, Demollari)
Leading goalscorer: Sokol Kushta (2)
Yellow/red cards: 6/0

– overview

PlayerAppsXISubUnSubMinsGlsY/R
Demollari, Sulejman66540
Hodja, Skënder665401/0
Jera, Fatbardh66540
Gega, Skënder554481/0
Millo, Lefter55437
Lekbello, Artur55436
Josa, Mirel55420
Mersini, Halim443601/0
Zmijani, Hysen551450
Shehu, Ylli443401
Minga, Arbën33270
Alimehmeti, Krenar11290
Bubeqi, Agim2211801/0
Kushta, Sokol221802
Nallbani, Blendi221180
Taho, Rrapo11901/0
Noga, Pjerin22272
Hasanpapa, Fatmir11132
Stoja, Anesti1120
Majaci, Kujtim1113
Arbëri, Arben22132
Birçë, Luan2
Iljadhi, Roland111901/0
Kela, Edmond1
Kepa, Ilir11316
Laçja, Arian1
Shkurti, Sotir1
Stafa, Arian1
Arjan Xhumba1190
Ledio Pano1174
Muharrem Dosti1
Note: Albania only featured four out of a possible five substitutes for three of their six matches

– game by game

PlayerPol (a)Swe (h) Eng (h)Eng (a)Swe (a)Pol (h)AppsMins
Mersini909090904360
Alimehmeti90RR190
Josa 90909090605420
Hodja9090909090906540
Gega90909090885448
Jera9090909090906540
Shehu709090904340
Lekbello90909090765436
Millo90907790905437
Minga9090903270
Demollari9090909090906540
Stoja20+120
ZmijaniR90909090905450
Nallbani90R902180
Bubeqi90R902180
HasanpapaR32132
NogaR5814+272
Taho90190
Kushta90902180
ArbëriR230+232
IljadhiR90190
Xhumba90190
Pano 74174
KepaRRR16+116
Majaci13+113
ShkurtiR
BirçëRR
StafaR
LaçjaR
KelaR

– ratings

PosPlayerAverage ratingNumber of rated games
1Mersini6,874
2Hodja6,745
3Demollari6,725
3Lekbello6,725
5Zmijani6,624
6Gega 6,605
7Shehu6,574
7Josa6,574
9Jera6,565
10Minga6,503
11Millo6,345
Explanation to table: Number of rated games: 5. A player must have been given a rating in half or more of the games in order to be considered.

Post-qualification

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