Albania progress on hold after defeat

Albania missed a chance to reach their first major soccer tournament after a 2-0 home defeat by Serbia in a politically charged Euro 2016 Group I qualifier on Thursday.

The result left the Albanians in third place on 11 points from seven games, seven adrift of Portugal who qualified for next year’s tournament in France with a 1-0 win over Denmark.

The Danes are second on 12 points from eight games and have finished their campaign, meaning Albania can leapfrog them and qualify by winning their last match away to Armenia on Sunday.

Serbia left back Aleksandar Kolarov and forward Adem Ljajic scored stoppage time goals to silence a vociferous but well-behaved 13 000 home crowd in the central city of Elbasan.

Serbia played with more purpose in the first half, with captain Branislav Ivanovic missing their best opportunity after firing a volley from inside the area just over the bar.

Albania worked hard but they only threatened Serbia with a stinging shot by Sokol Cikalleshi in the 76th minute.

When the game appeared to be heading for a stalemate, Albania lost concentration just as they did in last month’s 1-0 home defeat by Portugal, who they beat in their first game.

Ljajic set up Kolarov to score with an angled shot and put the icing on the cake for Serbia with a dink over goalkeeper Etrit Berisha after racing clear from inside his own half.

Apart from whistling the Serbia national anthem and booing several players, Albania’s fans did not cause the trouble that marred the first match in Belgrade a year ago, which had to be abandoned, and even applauded the sportsmanship on the pitch.

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