• Albania have a decisive role to play in Group G of the European qualifiers
  • Christian Panucci discusses the upcoming matches against Spain & Italy
  • “It was Fabio Capello who told me to move into coaching”

Albania go into their final two games in the European qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ with virtually no chance of making it to the world finals. Third in a very demanding Group G, the Albanians are gearing up to face the two teams above them in the pool: Spain and Italy.

The section’s big two would be well advised not to take Albania lightly, however, as their coach Christian Panucci explained. “They’re two very big matches for our players and we’re going to give it a go. That’s what you always have to try and do in life and in sport. We’ll try to make life hard for them. You never know in football.”

As far as the Albania boss is concerned, these are no ordinary games: “They’re special matches, for sure. Spain is my second home. I spend a lot of time there, I’ve got friends there and I spent a very important part of my career in the country, which is close to my heart. And Italy is where I live. I made a lot of appearances for the national team too.”

Did you know?

  • Born in 1973 in Savona, Italy, he learned his trade in the Genoa youth ranks.
  • A first-choice right-back for Milan, Real Madrid, Inter and Roma, among others, through to his retirement in 2010 with Parma.
  • Among the many trophies Panucci won were two UEFA Champions Leagues: in 1994 with Milan and with Real Madrid in 1998, the club’s seventh.
  • Panucci won 57 caps for Italy and appeared at Korea/Japan 2002.
  • Regards Fabio Capello as his mentor. Panucci followed him from Milan to Madrid and then began his coaching career with him.
  • Was Capello’s assistant with Russia’s national team, helping to take them to Brazil 2014. He also coached Livorno and Ternara in the Italian second division and took on the Albania job in July of this year.
  • Has since overseen the 2-0 defeat of Liechtenstein and the 1-1 draw with FYR Macedonia.

Giving an exclusive interview to FIFA.com, Panucci spoke of his objectives with Albania, the criticism aimed at Giampiero Ventura’s Italy and the influence of Capello on his career, among other topics.

New objectives
“Gianni de Biasi did a fantastic job, and after qualifying for EURO 2016, Albania have gained a lot of respect in Europe and around the world. There’s a lot of positivity around. We have a good squad of players and I’m very happy. The aim is to qualify for EURO 2020 and we’re going to do all we can to make it. I think we can give it a good go, and I’m sure that Albania have a very bright future ahead of them.”

No playing for a draw
“I like being brave in both victory and defeat, and we’re just going to see what happens against Spain and Italy. I don’t want my players to think that I’d be happy with a draw and to have everyone sit behind the ball (laughs). Avoiding defeat would be good though.”

On Italy and the criticism of Ventura
“Spain beat Italy in that game (3-0), but Italy have won on many other occasions and I don’t think there’s much difference between the two. Every game is different. It’s not easy for Ventura. This is a transitional phase for Italy, there’s World Cup qualification at stake and he should be allowed to get on with the job. He’s a top coach with a lot of experience and he deserves respect.”

Will we see Italy at Russia 2018?
“I don’t know. Italy are used to making it and the team’s still in with a chance of qualifying. I hope they make the finals; in fact, I’m sure they will. And when Italy get to a World Cup, they know how to make their way to the Final.”

Taking Capello’s advice
“I always liked the idea, but he was the one who told me I had to be a coach. He took me with him to Russia, which was a fantastic experience, and that was when I started to give it some serious thought. You need to work hard if you want to make a success of being a coach. It’s a tough job, but I’m strong enough to give it a go. Let’s see what the future holds. I learned a lot of things from Capello but they’re all a secret (laughs). We all know his approach to his work and his mindset, which is one of the things that’s stayed with me in my career. He is a top professional.”