Football arrived in Albania early in the 20th century when the inhabitants of the northern city of Shkoder were surprised to see a strange game being played by students at a Christian mission. The sport swiftly grew in popularity in a country then under Ottoman Empire rule.
Shkoder's credentials as Albanian football's birthplace were cemented when, in 1913, a team representing the city and called Independence, played against a team of Austro-Hungarian soldiers. According to reports, the match was 45 minutes each way and faithful to the laws of the game. It is also documented that no further official fixture took place until 1921. Then, the Vllaznia club of Shkoder – formed in February 1919 – took on opponents established one year later, Agimi, with Vllaznia winning.
After the sport caught on elsewhere, the Football Association of Albania (Federata Shqiptare e Futbollit – FSHF) was created on 6 June 1930. The association gained membership of world football governing body FIFA in 1932, and later was a founder member of UEFA in 1954.
Despite the game's growth, the difficult economic situation in the country impeded efforts to forge a sound infrastructure for clubs. Nonetheless, Albania produced a number of talented players who moved abroad to enhance their careers. The outstanding examples were Riza Lushta, Loro Boriçi and Naim Kryeziu who played in Italy for Juventus, S.S. Lazio and AS Roma, respectively, between 1940 and 1944.
A domestic championship was instituted in April 1930, featuring six teams: KS Skënderbeu, KS Bashkimi Shkodran, KS Teuta, KS Urani Elbasan, SK Vlora and SK Tirana (now KF Tirana). The first match was a 3-2 victory for Tirana over Bashkimi. Tirana, together with sides such as KS Dinamo Tirana, KS Vllaznia and FK Partizani, largely dominated the Albanian scene until the present day.
The years following the Second World War saw a new political order, with the introduction of a communist system having a positive impact on soccer's development. Football became popularised, its infrastructure being strengthened as the sport was organised and encouraged in state enterprises, schools, villages and towns.
Albania's national-team debut arrived on 22 September 1946 with a 5-0 thrashing of Montenegro. Another memorable occasion was the 1-1 home draw with the Northern Ireland of George Best and Pat Jennings in November 1965, which ended the visitors' FIFA World Cup qualifying hopes. Albania dealt a similar blow to West Germany after a goalless UEFA European Championship qualifier in December 1967.
From 1991 crucial political and economic changes had a tremendous effect as the nation's centralised financial and political systems fell. The result for footballers was an opportunity to travel. Sulejman Demollari went to FC Dinamo Bucureşti in Romania; Rudi Vata joined Enosis Neon Paralimni FC of Cyprus and then Scotland's Celtic FC. Greece and the Balkan states were other popular destinations.
Such changes in a country's life are always difficult, and UEFA's commitment to assisting smaller associations such as the FSHF proved vital. Solidarity payments by European football's governing body gave the Albanian football authorities the chance to put the local game on a sounder footing.
Albania's clubs and national teams continue to strive to deliver at European and world levels. Wins against Russia and Georgia, and draws with Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland, helped constitute an unbeaten home record in UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying. The national team beat neighbours and new European champions Greece 2-1 in Tirana on 4 September 2004 in a FIFA World Cup qualifier. Recent affirming results were the 0-0 draw in Portugal in October 2008, again in World Cup qualifying, the 6-1 friendly success over Cyprus in August 2009 and four successive 1-0 wins in 2010 against Northern Ireland, Montenegro, Andorra and Uzbekistan.
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