More than four months after his goal against Serbia, Xherdan Shaqiri is facing another political issue. Now he is part of another Serbian-Albanian political clash, this time without even playing.
The national identity questions erupted by the clash between Switzerland and Albania, between Albanians, Kosovars and Swiss.
It's the middle of March. In some leagues, you can hear the final whistle behind to corner. For others, this is the whistle for the kick off. In this Weekend Guide you’ll see both – a top match from Albania, another interesting visit to the CAF Champions League and the first match of the Turkmen league.
(All the hours are in CET local time)
Amateur (Like this penalty)
What? Partizani – Skënderbeu (Albanian Superliga)
When? Monday, 1900
Where? Qemal Stafa Stadium, Tirana
Why? Everyone can feel the tension as we are getting closer to the end of the season and there’s a match for the title. Skënderbeu, the Albanian champions since 2011, will travel as the league leaders to Tirana. There they will play against Partizani, which in 2nd place with 5 points less.
Key Players: In Partizani, the main player will be Xhevahir Sukaj, who played in Iran in the past three years and scored 12 goals this season. From the other side, Skënderbeu will focus on Hamdi Salihi, who played in Austria, USA and China and now he´s the league’s top scorer with 21 goals.
Support of the Fans: Partizani's Arbnor Fejzullahu got his first call up to the national team in an interesting way. He was invited to a training camp for diaspora Albanian players after a recommendation by Jetmir Salihu, a member of the national team fan club.
Professional (like this goal)
What? APR – Young Africans (CAF Champions League)
When? Saturday, 1430
Where? Amahoro Stadium, Kigali
Why? It always great to see two minor teams facing each other, knowing that one of them will progress to the next stage in a continental tournament. APR, the champions of Rwanda, will try to pass through the first stage for the first time since 2004. The Tanzanian champions, Young Africans, recall their history with two appearances in the Champions Cup quarter finals in 1969 and 1970.
Key Players: Watch for APR's Abdul Rwatubyaye, the main player of his club that scored decisive hat-trick in the previous round. In Young Africans you can find Nizar Khalfan, former Vancouver Whitecaps player with 43 international caps for Tanzania.
Transnational Legend: One of the biggest names in the history of Young African was born in Burundi, played for short time in Tanzania and was part of DR Congo national team. Yes, we're talking about Shabani Nonda.
World Class (like this goal)
What? Altyn Asyr – Balkan (Turkmenistan Yokari Liga)
When? Saturday, 1100
Where? Ashgabat Stadium, Ashgabat
Why? It’s a new season in Turkmenistan and the biggest match-up of the league is here. Altyn Asyr, the champions of the two previous seasons will try to win their third title in a row. Balkan were the runner-ups, but they wish to be much closer than a gap of 24 points like in the last season.
Key Players: Ahmet Ataýew, Altyn Asyr midfielder and the national team captain, was last season league MVP, so he definitely will be a guy to watch for. Balkan's Ýagmyrmyrat Annamyradow is one of the veteran players in the league and was part of Balkan winning squad in 2013 AFC President's Cup.
The Key to Success: Ýazguly Hojageldyýew, Altyn Asyr manager, led Turkmenistan national team to their biggest achievement, finalists of the AFC Challenge Cup in 2010 and 2012.
One weekend, three games, Worldwide. All the information.
BabaGol weekend recap is here again, with all the matches you must watch and follow this weekend. You can be sure, it will be better than any match you've planned to watch.
This time we will visit a hot Balkan derby, another crazy race for the title world in a controversial Arab country, and finally, we will travel all the way to South America for the literally ‘highest’ rivalry in the world. Are you ready?
(All the hours are in CET local time)
Sturday, 1400, KF Tirana – Partizani (Albanian Superliga)
The Albanian league is not one of the best leagues in the Balkans, but still very popular by local crowd, while thousands of people are attending each game.
One of the major clashes of the country is the capital’s derby, KF Tirana against Partizani. Both teams need to gain points for the title battles, as they want to put an end Skënderbeu Korçë’s dynsty, who won the last four consecutive titles.
KF Tirana is one of the oldest and successful teams in the Albanian football – 25 championships, 17 cups and an impressive record in the continental competitions. At the moment, the club is ranked in the 2nd place, one point behind the leaders. The coach is Gugash Magani, who was well known player and played until the age of 40, but as a coach he failed to get any achievement yet.
The players which try to lead the team for the first title since 2009 are Debatik Curri, who returned to his home nation after 9 years in Ukraine and Turkey, Gjergji Muzaka, who was a part of last season’s title of Skënderbeu, Ervin Bulku, who played 56 times for the national team, and Selemani Ndikumana, the star of Burundi national team.
While some of KF Tirana players still remember their last title, there are players in Partizani that wasn’t even born in the last championship of their club, it was back in 1993. This season they have great chance to make it, as they are in the 4th place, just 4 points from top of the table.
The coach, Shpëtim Duro, was the coach who led Skënderbeu to the first title in 2011. Pay attention to Nderim Nexhipi, Macedonian-Albanian player who played in Germany and Belgium, Idriz Batha, one of the wonder kids of the Albanian football, and Endrit Vrapi, who came back to Partizani after playing for 7 Albanian teams in 12 years. Another interesting face is the Serbian player Stevan Račić, one of the leading scorers of the team, who despite the complex relations between the nations, preferred to play in Albania Partizani, rather than other ex-Yugoslav leagues.
This rivalry contains also a conflict between fans. Partizani is known as ‘The People´s Team’, who identify with the famous Albanian Liberation Army, and has a strong Ultras group who is famous all over the Balkans. KF Tirana fans are usually middle class Tiranians, with more of a local orientation and less national identification.
The big rivalries of the Balkans are a fight about football and social conflicts, only this time the teams will fight for the Albanian title too.
*Important Comment: Due to security and administration issues, on Friday 27.2.15 at 14:30, both clubs decided to delay the match to the 12.3.15, in order to be able and host fans of both sides and create a better atmosphere in the most important match of Albania. Well, at least you enjoyed some good early pregame. BabaGol will update you before the game is 'really' played.
Saturday, 1715, Al Sadd – Lekhwiya (Qatar Stars League)
On last recaps we checked the leagues of Bahrain and Morocco, and now we will keep on tracking an Arabic scenario, in one of the world´s most controversial football countries - Qatar. Eight games are left until the end of the season, and Lekhwiya wants to win its fourth title in 5 year, while Al Sadd, most decorated team in the country, wants to clinch another title. Al Sadd's season looks great so far. they finished in the 3rd place last season, and missed their Asian Champions League group stage by single point, and now they are leading the table with just one defeat through the whole term. The manager, Hussein Amotta, is the one who led Al Sadd for their last title in 2013, and have won with the club also as a player, in 2000.
As every team in Qatar, Al Sadd has some players which have tasted the highest levels of football. Brazilian striker Grafite, one of the superstars in German side, Wolfsburg, championship in 2009, and Nadir Belhadj, who played for Algeria in 2010 World Cup, are familiar faces. There are also some Qatari talents like Khalfan Ibrahim, the all-time leading scorer of the club, Abdelkarim Hassan, who 4 years ago broke the record of the youngest player in the Asian Champions League, and Hassan Al Haidos, Qatari footballer of the year in 2014. Lekhwiya won the title in the last year, and aiming for repeat this year. This season they are ranked second place, one point behind Al Sadd. The major reason for their success is their owner, Sheikh Abdullah al Thani. Being the owner of Málaga CF, he makes sure that money is not problem. Michael Laudrup is the manager and big names such as Vladimír Weiss, who arrived last season from Olympiacos, Chico Flores, who came from Swansea, and Tunisian international, Youssef Msakni. Sebastián Soria, Uruguayan who made 101 caps for the Qatari National Team, is also kicking there, and some interesting local names as Ismaeel Mohammed and Khalid Muftah, are also key players for the club and country.
With the responses and rejections over the 2022 World Cup saga, it should be interesting to watch the Qatari League, and try to understand what is the local scene looks like, or is it all about the money. The answer is there somewhere.
Besides, our previous matches from the Arab world were definitely at a high level and temper, full of emotions and intervals. Would you dare to miss another match like that?
Sunday, 2100, Bolívar – The Strongest (Liga de Fútbol Profesional Boliviano)
Hold your breath. It's not because you are suffering the Altitude disease of standing in the highest football stadium in the world, it's because our next match, El Clásico Paceño, the derby of La Paz. Two of Bolivia’s biggest teams will meet on Sunday for a match that can twist the Bolivian League´ season a part.
Bolívar is the current champions of Bolivia, and the current league leaders, with 19 points in 8 matches. Unfortunately, they have conceded their first defeat last game, what brings them in a shaky form before the decisive match. The manager is Xabier Azkargorta, Spanish who formerly was the manager of the Bolivian national team in 1994 World Cup. Pay attention to Juan Carlos Arce, who made 44 caps for the national team, Carlos Tenorio, who was part of Ecuador squad for the 2002 and 2006 World Cup, and Juanmi Callejón, the twin brother of Napoli player, José Callejón, and the leading scorer of the team in this season.
The Strongest, a weird name by all accounts, is the oldest team in Bolivia. They got their name in 1908, after their founders decided to call the team "The Strongest" and not just "The Strong", their original name. The team is ranked in the 2nd place, 5 points behind Bolívar, but they played two matches fewer than the leaders, so there is a chance to turn things around if they will win the derby.
The players that should be noticed are Pablo Escobar, Paraguayan-born Bolivian player who scored 87 goals in the last 4 season, Daniel Vaca, 36 years old veteran goalkeeper, and Maximiliano Bajter, Uruguayan player who played also in Mexico and Norway.
This is one of the top rivalries in South America and only one team could win the 3 points. It could be Bolívar's run for the title or The Strongest's closer of the gap. Stay tuned!