Substitutes Edgar Çani and Erjon Bogdani struck in the last six minutes as Albania opened FIFA World Cup qualifying with a hard-fought 3-1 win against Cyprus.
The sides were evenly matched throughout, exchanging goals from first-half free-kicks courtesy of Armando Sadiku and Cyprus debutant Vincent Laban. The hosts gradually began to dominate, however, and Çani and Bogdani finally broke through the barricades to delight the noisy support.
Albania started brightly in Tirana, fashioning good openings for Hamdi Salihi and Alban Meha before Sadiku rifled in on 36 minutes. Cyprus responded before the break, keeping up the pressure until the fifth minute of added time when French-born midfielder Laban beat goalkeeper Samir Ujkani with a sweet strike.
The visitors, forced to replace injured goalkeeper Antonis Giorgallides with Christakis Mastrou at the interval, almost snatched an unlikely lead before the hour when Emilian Vila's scuffed clearance bounced off the post with Ujkani stranded; Lorik Cana was on hand to clear the danger.
That was the closest the visitors came, and they could conjure no reply when Mastrou's ill-timed run off his line allowed Çani to head his team ahead. Instead, Bogdani made sure three minutes later, smashing a 25-metre strike into Mastrou's top-right corner.
Albania travel to Switzerland on Tuesday, when Cyprus attempt to kick-start their Group E campaign at home to Iceland.
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