Albania’s football community savoured a historic moment with the inauguration of the country’s new Air Albania Stadium in the capital Tirana – described by UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin as “a magnificent arena”.
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Mr Čeferin was a guest of honour for the first official match at the 21,690-capacity stadium, built with the help of UEFA’s HatTrick assistance programme, when Albania took on world champions France in a European Qualifier.
The Air Albania Stadium is the largest venue in the country and will offer fans the opportunity to watch club and national team matches.
"Over the last few years,” said Mr Čeferin, “Albania has made tremendous progress both on and off the pitch in terms of its football development. Now, youngsters across the country can dream of one day representing Albania in this magnificent stadium."
During his visit to Albania, the UEFA President also met the country’s President, Ilir Meta, and the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, and visited the construction site of the new Football Association of Albania (FShF) headquarters and training centre.
Albania’s quest for success
Albania has high hopes of revisiting the heights of 2016, when the national team achieved a notable ‘first’ by reaching the UEFA EURO finals in France. The Air Albania Stadium gives fresh impetus to the country’s quest to enjoy similar footballing successes in the coming years.
"In order for football to remain popular and to attract more youngsters to the stadiums, it is imperative that fans are able to watch matches in safe and comfortable conditions,” Mr Čeferin said.
“The Air Albania Stadium is a state-of-the-art stadium,” he added, “and I would like to congratulate the Football Association of Albania and other stakeholders in the country for overseeing [its] completion.”
“Fantastic modern arena”
FShF president and UEFA Executive Committee member Armand Duka said that the inauguration of the Air Albania stadium was an unforgettable moment for Albanian football. “Finally, supporters from across the country will be able to watch our national team play in a fantastic modern arena,” he reflected.
“I would like to express my gratitude to UEFA for the financial support they have provided and for overseeing the project, as well as passing on valuable expertise."
The completion of the Air Albania Stadium demonstrates the commitment of FShF to improving the country's footballing infrastructures, in particular through the building and redevelopment of stadiums.
UEFA has been providing HatTrick funding for important Albanian stadium projects – these include:
• Reconstruction/redevlopment of the Elbasan Arena (Elbasan) and the Loro Boriçi Stadium (Shkodër)
• Construction of the Zeqir Ymeri stadium in Kukës
"It is vitally important for football in Albania to have modern infrastructures around the country,” said Mr Duka.
“This means that clubs playing in European competitions will be able to play locally and not be forced to play in Tirana, while it also gives us the opportunity to bid to potentially host UEFA club competition finals in the future."
In addition, the new FShF headquarters, the House of Football, is expected to be ready in March next year, while the training centre’s two pitches, grandstands, rehabilitation centre and surroundings are likely to be finished by October 2020.
UEFA support for Albania’s football development
• Albania was one of six national associations involved in the UEFA Football in Schools pilot project which preceded September’s official launch of a full four-year project across Europe
UEFA Grow – a programme in which UEFA gives strategic support to national associations to help them maximise their full potential on and off the pitch – has also been key in aiding Albanian football’s progress:
• UEFA Grow supported the Albanian FA in the development of a holistic communications strategy, with a primary focus on corporate matters, the national team, the league and the women’s game.
• UEFA Grow also recently supported the rebranding of the FShF brand