Back for a third spell at his hometown club, striker Daniel Xhafaj hopes to end the season as both Albania's top scorer and a league champion with KS Flamurtari.
The side from Vlore – the port city that was Albania's first capital – have had their ups and downs since winning their only domestic title in 1991, but as they return to action at KS Kastrioti on Saturday, Xhafaj is on a mission. "I came back here with one thing on my mind: to bring the league trophy back to my home town," explained the 33-year-old.
With ten goals in 15 Superliga outings, the one-time Neuchâtel Xamax FC forward trails only KF Tirana's 12-goal Pero Pejić in the scoring chart. "
I don't want to sound greedy, but it will be sweet if I win the golden shoe and the title in the same year," Xhafaj said. "That would be the icing on the cake."
Xhafaj's third spell at the club where he made his league debut in 1995 has coincided with the assembly of one of Flamurtari's most powerful squads. Alongside Xhafaj, coach Gugash Magani can call on 31-year-old defender Julian Ahmataj and midfielder Bledar Devolli, 33, with all three players having won plenty of medals.
Those veterans are helping their younger team-mates raise their game, although they have a way to go to match Flamurtari's golden boys of the mid-1980s – who twice took on FC Barcelona in Europe and became the only Albanian side to reach the third round of a UEFA competition in the 1987/88 UEFA Cup.
Flamurtari lost two of their last four league games in the autumn, yet having regrouped at a successful winter training camp in Antalya, Turkey, winning all four friendly fixtures, Flamurtari are on song. "We must continue playing well as a team," said Devolli. "That has been our strength so far and if we carry on, we will be OK."
With his charges three points clear of second-placed KS Skënderbeu as the championship resumes, Magani wants to keep heads cool. "We have completed only half of our mission," said the coach, who signed striker Sebino Plaku from KF Tirana on Monday. "The second part is much more important and much more difficult. We just have to keep doing our jobs and finish strongly, and we should be fine."
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