Josip Kuže will lead Albania into their UEFA EURO 2012™ qualifying campaign with the 56-year-old former NK Dinamo Zagreb defender saying: "This is great. I am excited and I cannot wait."
Vote of confidence
Kuže took over following the departure of Dutch coach Arie Haan, leading Albania through their final three FIFA World Cup qualifiers, but although his side earned only a draw and two defeats from those fixtures, he will be given the chance to make improvements in the next qualifying campaign, for which the draw is made in Warsaw on 7 February 2010. Football Association of Albania president Armand Duka said: "Josip Kuže will continue to be the coach of Albania for the EURO 2012™ qualifiers."
Albania finished second from bottom of Group 1, below Denmark, Portugal, Sweden and Hungary, with only Malta below them, but could take comfort in having taken points off all of the top three sides, though a draw against Malta and two losses to Hungary proved more painful. "We got what we deserved in the toughest group we have ever played in," said Duka. "The defeats against Hungary and the point we dropped in Malta stopped us taking a step towards our objectives."
Kuže was recommended to Duka by another Croatian, former Albania coach Otto Barić, with the 77-year-old saying: "The best fit for the Albania job would be me, but given the circumstances, I would go for Josip Kuže." The coach did not make much progress in competitive games, but proved his worth in his third match in charge, a 6-1 friendly rout of Cyprus which handed the national team the most emphatic victory in their history.
The emergence of young talents like goalkeeper Samir Ujkani as well as midfielders Jahmir Hyka and Emiliano Vila, along with the continued improvement of striker Hamdi Salihi suggest that Kuže look to bring in a new generation of talent in the run-up to the start of Albania's next qualifying campaign. The coach conceded that "there will be a few changes to the squad selection during the upcoming matches". Defender Debatik Curri's place looks to be safe, however, with the 25-year-old setting a new national record in the World Cup qualifiers by appearing in every single minute of the campaign.
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