Albania revived their chances of qualifying for UEFA EURO 2004™ after scoring twice in the last ten minutes to beat Russia 3-1 in Group 10 and give coach Hans-Peter Briegel a memorable start in his new job.
Tare seals victory
Midfield player Altin Lala dribbled past half the Russian defence to put the home side 2-1 in front on 80 minutes before Russia's goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnikov failed to hold an Igli Tare header and the forward stuck the loose ball into the net.
Closes the gap
Albania's victory - their first in the section - closes the gap on second-placed Russia to two points and the Albanians could go above the Russians if they beat the Republic of Ireland in their next qualifying match at home on Wednesday. Ireland beat Georgia 2-1 away earlier on Saturday.
Ochinnikov saved a penalty from Albania's Klodian Duro before Albania striker Altin Raklli opened the scoring on 20 minutes after the goalkeeper deflected a shot from Ervin Skela. Russia's strikers, especially Alexander Kerzhakov, squandered chances until the 77th minute when substitute Andrei Karayka fired home from a perfect pass inside the area.
Just when it looked like Albania, who had shown greater determination and improved tactical discipline, would let the game slip away, as has happened so often in the past, Lala gave them the lead and Tare soon added their third.
'We deserved to win'
Albania's German coach, Briegel, was pleased with the response of his players after his first match in charge, "
The team deserved to win because they concentrated from the first minute to the 90th and they did not lose heart after giving away a penalty."
Albania showed a vast improvement from their 4-1 thrashing by Russia in Volgograd but the former German international warned that they must now concentrate on Ireland. "As the team of a small country we should not be looking at the overall situation of the group but the next match with Ireland, who have got some stronger points than the Russians," Briegel said.
Played in the northern town of Shkoder on the pitch where Albania played their first international against Russia in 1947, the victory delighted the 16,000 crowd, including the Albanian prime minister, Fatos Nano, who said: "Albania can now say it has beaten a former superpower".