Albania to play Morocco friendly ahead of first World Cup qualifier against Macedonia

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 5, 2016 09:41

Albania to play Morocco friendly ahead of first World Cup qualifier against Macedonia

Story Highlights

  • Albania will face a tough race in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers after being drawn against four-time World Cup winners Italy and 2010 winners Spain in Group G

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By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Aug. 4 - Albania will play a home friendly against Morocco at the end of August few days before they take on neighboring Macedonia in the first Russia World Cup qualifier, the football association has announced.

The friendly scheduled to be played on August 31 at the newly reconstructed Shkodra stadium in northern Albania will be a key test for the national side after their historic debut in Euro 2016 where they were unlucky to make it to the knockout stage as one of the four best third-placed teams.

"This fixture will serve the national side to prepare for its Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers ahead of their first match against Macedonia in Shkodra," the association said in a statement.

The two teams are facing each other for the first time.

One of the toughest African sides, Morocco ranked 54th in the latest FIFA ranking compared to Albania's 37th, one of their best world historical rankings.

Last June, Albania ended their historic debut in a major football tournament in a dramatic disqualification filled with suspense after the national side was unlucky to make it to the knockout stage of the Euro 2016 as one of the four best third-placed teams. Albania, who collected three points in their group stage fixtures following a victory with Romania and losses against hosts France and Switzerland, were punished by their -2 goal difference.

Albania will face a tough race in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers after being drawn against four-time World Cup winners Italy and 2010 winners Spain in Group G.

The national side will play its first match at home to neighboring Macedonia on September 5, before travelling to Liechtenstein on October 6 and hosting Spain on October 9.

The Red & Blacks will play at home to Israel on November 12 and travel to Italy on March 14, 2017 in the first round of group matches.

Albania’s coach Gianni de Biasi has described the draw as very difficult for Albania, which although against all odds, will fight to the end as it did in the last Euro qualifiers with a surprise direct qualification as the second best team in a group which also featured the now European champions Portugal, Denmark and Serbia.

Differently from the Euro qualifiers where the top two group teams qualified directly and the third-placed teams were given a play-off chance, the road to Russia World Cup for European national sides is much tougher with only the nine group winners directly qualifying and the 8 best group runners-up contesting in a play-off round.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 5, 2016 09:41