For the second season in succession, the Albanian championship will be decided by a winner-takes-all match on the final day, with KF Tirana needing to avoid defeat against KS Vllaznia in the capital on Saturday to claim a 24th crown.
Nip and tuck
Last term, KS Dinamo Tirana won 2-1 against FK Partizani in the last game of the league programme to take the honours, and the two sides vying for the title this season will also meet in the final round of matches. Tirana's derby win against Dinamo last weekend coupled with Vllaznia's 1-1 draw at home to struggling KS Lushnja has left the capital titans on top, but defeat on Saturday would send the crown to Shkoder.
Tirana have had a turbulent few weeks. A 2-1 loss to KF Flamurtari in the Albanian Cup final on 6 May prompted the resignation of coach Agustin Kola, who had earlier replaced Bosnia-Herzegovnian Blaž Slišković. "I didn't achieve my objective," said Kola. Technical director Alban Tafaj came in to replace him, and has earned wins in both of his games to date.
The club have retained the services of Kola's assistant Mauro Bencivenga, who previously worked with Fabio Capello at AC Milan. Tafaj can also continue to call on Albanian international Ansi Agolli, with Tirana having acquired his registration from Finnish side VPS Vaasa. "My job is to continue to help our team try and win the title," said the new coach.
On-off coach Dervish 'Deda' Hadziosmanovic led Vllaznia to top honours in 2000/01 as well as cup glory last season, while Elvin Beqiri, Vioresin Sinani, Suad Lici, Safet Osja and Albert Kaci were all in the team that won that title. However, the star of the spring has been Xhevahir Sukaj, who has scored 13 goals since rejoining the club from Turkish side Hacettepe SK in the winter.
However, with an injury having slowed Sukaj down in recent weeks, 14-goal Vioresin Sinani may be Vllaznia's best hope as they aim to score in Tirana against the side that knocked them out of the Albanian Cup semi-finals in April. "The result against Lushnja has hurt our chances, but we still hope we can win," said Hadziosmanovic.
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