Lowly Kukës continue to roar for Albania

"We are making history," said FK Kukësi coach Armando Cungu after the lowest-ranked side in the third qualifying round shocked FC Metalurh Donetsk with a 2-0 first-leg win.

Kukës celebrate a UEFA Europa League goal
Kukës celebrate a UEFA Europa League goal ©Fedja Krvavac

To FK Kukësi, UEFA Europa League rankings are just numbers on a piece of paper.

The side with the lowest UEFA coefficient in the competition's 58-team third qualifying round defied their lowly rating on Thursday, goals from Lucas Malacarne and Renato Malota earning a 2-0 first-leg success against FC Metalurh Donetsk that leaves the Albanian club 90 minutes away from the play-offs.

Kukës are five games undefeated in their debut European campaign, having already overcome FC Flora Tallinn and FK Sarajevo. "We are making history," said coach Armando Cungu. "I am pleased with the score but we have a lot more work to do. Metalurh are a strong side although we are playing well and I am very proud of the team's effort."

Kukës made the perfect start against their Ukrainian visitors, going ahead in the sixth minute through Malacarne. "That is what we needed," said captain Rahman Hallaçi. Things further went their way when Mykola Morozyuk was dismissed for a second booking on 69 minutes, before Malota sealed the win late on.

However, the hosts also relied on the impressive Argent Halili to maintain their advantage, with the goalkeeper making outstanding saves from Velizar Dimitrov and Djordje Lazić. "He was amazing," said midfielder Yll Hoxha.

The result means the north-eastern team have established the longest unbeaten record of any Albanian side in Europe, and a positive outcome in next week's return leg could herald a meeting with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur FC, FC Dynamo Kyiv and ACF Fiorentina.

No matter Kukës's eventual fate, they have proved once again that the beauty of football lies in the fact that when a game kicks off, ratings, rankings and coefficients count for nothing.