- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Albania coach Christian Panucci is hoping to pull off a couple of surprises when his team faces Spain and Italy in upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Albania will play in Spain on Oct. 6 and host Italy next week.

The 44-year-old Panucci, an Italian who took over as Albania coach in July, said Monday the match in Spain will be “very difficult” because the Spaniards usually control the game.

“We should try to make our utmost as the match starts 0-0 and with 11 players each team,” Panucci said, adding that his players will “play aggressively and with courage to change history.”

Panucci will miss three key players for the match against Spain - defender Mergim Mavraj, and midfielders Burim Kukeli and Odise Roshi. He has recalled midfielders Taulant Xhaka and Ermir Lenjania, and forward Sokol Cikalleshi.

“We know who they are but we should also respect ourselves,” Panucci said of the team’s upcoming opponents. “We should be realistic because in football everything could occur.”

Albania is third in Group G with 13 points, nine behind Spain and six behind Italy.

Panucci, who replaced Gianni de Biasi, said after the next two qualifiers he will look for “another history” to lead the team through the 2020 European Championship.

Under de Biasi, Albania played at its first major tournament at last year’s European Championship.

“These are very good matches for Albania’s image,” Panucci said. “… to show that we could do something nice even when playing with much stronger opponents.”



Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha (Atalanta), Thomas Strakosha (Lazio), Alban Hoxha (Partizani)

Defenders: Ansi Agolli (Karakag), Arlind Ajeti (Crotone), Mergim Mavraj (Hamburg), Berat Djimsiti (Benevento), Elseid hysaj (Napoli), Frederic Veseli (Empoli), Hysen Memolla (Hajduk Split), Ivan Balliu (Metz)

Midfielders: Migjen Basha (Bari), Andi Lila (PAS Ioannina), Ledian Memushaj (Benevento), Burim Kukeli (Sion), Eros Grezda (Osijek), Ergys Kace (PAOK), Odise Roshi (Akhmat Grozny), Liridon Latifi (Akademia Puskas), Ermir Lenjani (Sion), Emanuele Ndoj (Brescia), Taulant Xhaka (Basel)

Forwards: Valon Ahmedi (Maribor), Asdren Llullaku (Tobor Kostanay), Armando Sadiku (Legia Warsaw), Sokol Cikalleshi (Osmanlispor)

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