The mayor of Tirana, Lulëzim Basha, has offered KF Tirana's players a €100,000 bonus if they win at KS Teuta on Friday in Albania's first league game of 2012, with the Durres side starting the new year as the team to beat.
Tirana are looking to add to their national record of 24 league titles, but trail Teuta by five points. The unassuming side from Albania's biggest port are in the hunt for their first crown since 1993/94, and are showing the value of toil and teamwork under coach Hasan Lika.
Lika and Teuta sporting director Sulejman Starova helped KF Partizani to win the 1992/93 title last time they worked together and it looks like that magic formula could be paying off again. "
We are a close-knit group with an unselfish attitude and a real hunger to win," explained the coach as he tried to encapsulate the form that saw Teuta lose just once in 13 league games in the autumn.
In the winter, Teuta addressed their perceived frailties in front of goal – they have scored just 17 times in the league – with the signing of Serbian forward Pavle Delibašić. The 33-year-old has played in Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Greece and Bulgaria and Teuta are hoping that his arrival will help make more of a quick, young midfield line, which has thrived in front of a defence featuring captain Arjan Sheta and former international defender Tefik Osmani.
Club president Edmond Hasanbelliu feels that, with the arrival of Delibašić, Teuta have added a crucial piece to the puzzle. "We have great chemistry, great leadership and a great coaching stuff," he said. "We are not a one-man team. We play as a group, but we needed a striker, and now we have one."
With confidence up, even elimination from the Albanian Cup has been seen as a positive. "It's not the end of the world," said the 30-year-old Sheta, who is in his third spell at Teuta "
Now, we only have one objective and all our focus will be on winning the title, not like our rivals Tirana and Skënderbeu who are still competing on both fronts."
That second title in the club's history is a big deal for Teuta's fans, the Djemt e Detit (Boys of the Sea), and Hasanbelliu is eager to secure the crown for the club, which takes its name from an ancient queen of Illyria. "I would love to win the title for the people of Durres and give them a special feeling that they haven't had for almost two decades," said Hasanbelliu.
Tirana, though, will not abandon hope easily. "It's a must win game for us," assistant coach Sokol Bulku told UEFA.com as he looked ahead to Friday's encounter. "We need to win, start the year in the right way and close the gap on the leaders."
Sheta, though, feels victory is within Teuta's grasp. "If we play our game we know we can beat these guys, but we have to be on our toes as they are very dangerous as well," he explained.
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