KS Skënderbeu can make history by becoming the first Albanian team to reach the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round if they can defend a 1-0 first-leg lead against Debreceni VSC in Nyiregyhaza on Tuesday.
The Albanian champions have a narrow lead to take to Hungary courtesy of Sebino Plaku's coolly taken finish on 65 minutes but could be left to rue missed chances in last week's opener. "I am very happy I scored the winner as it made up for the chance I missed at the start of the match," explained Plaku, who hit the crossbar early in the game.
However, coach Stanislav Levý has been at pains to highlight the importance of a good team display rather than individual performances as the key to eliminating the Hungarian champions, who contested the group stage as recently as 2009/10.
"We have to play as a team," Levý said. "We have to be together as one and if we do that, I think we have a significant chance of reaching the next round. I wish we could have taken our chances in the first game, but it is in the past and we have to think about this next match."
If Skënderbeu are to progress and set up a tie with FC BATE Borisov or FK Vardar, they will have to do so without injured captain Blendi Shkembi. The 32-year-old forward had surgery on a leg muscle during the off-season but will travel with the team despite being unavailable for selection. "It has been very tough to watch and not be able to play," he said.
Albanian international Gjergj Muzaka will provide some much needed experience having represented KF Tirana and FK Partizani on the European stage, and he is also relishing the prospect of progress, adding: "It will be sweet." KS Flamurtari are currently the only Albanian side to have played in the third round of a UEFA competition, having done so in the 1987/88 UEFA Cup when they were eliminated 4-2 on aggregate by FC Barcelona.
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