The race for the Albanian title could go down to the wire, with league leaders KS Dinamo Tirana scheduled to face second-placed FK Partizani on the final day of the season.
Dinamo are two points clear at the top of the table with coach Ilir Daja trying not to think too far ahead as the 17 May Partizani tie looms ominously on the horizon. "We are winning games and that's what we need to do," he said. His side's next match pits them against reigning champions KF Tirana, whose 2-1 loss to Partizani in their most recent encounter was rated as one of the best games of the season.
Partizani had trounced Tirana 4-1 earlier in the season, but the 26 April rematch was to be much tighter. Paulin Dhembi put Partizani ahead but Daniel Xhafaj struck back for their capital rivals. However, with a red card having reduced Tirana to ten men, Elis Bakaj had the final say, scoring the 61st-minute winner. "It was a match we deserved to win," said the midfielder.
It could easily have turned out differently, as Tirana coach Sulejman Mema pointed out. The former Partizani boss said: "We played well and we could have still won a point, even though we were a man down. We tied the game at the start of the second half and had a chance to equalise again, but Klodian Duro missed the penalty. I am very impressed with the way our players responded."
Tirana can not win the title now, but the Cup could have their name on it. They narrowly overcame KS Elbasani in the semis, winning 3-0 at home before losing 3-1 in the return leg. KS Vllaznia will be their opponents in the showcase game on 7 May, after the Shkoder side saw off Dinamo 7-0 on aggregate in the other semi. Slovakian referee Ľuboš Micheľ has been invited to officiate in the final.
Partizani coach Hasan Lika, meanwhile, is taking no comfort from the win against Tirana and knows his troops can ill afford to lose their edge in the remaining four games of the season. "We must win every match to keep pace with Dinamo," he said. "We have to do our bit and not worry what Dinamo do. We have to carry on like this until the end of the season if we want to be champions."
One interested observer at the Partizani v Tirana game was new Albania coach Arie Haan. The Dutchman held a private meeting with Bakaj and Tirana midfielder Jahmir Hyka after the game to discuss their role in the national team of the future. "Albania will play a different football game with a very different style," the 59-year-old coach promised.
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