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All-Time Top Albanian Football Players

All-Time Top Albanian Football Players

Albania, as a football association, was established in 1930. In 1932, the Football Association of Albania became part of FIFA and a founding member of UEFA in 1954. From 1936 onwards, the Albanian male team competed in competitions eligible for UEFA and FIFA. Through the decades, multiple players dazzled with their performances. Here, we highlight the greatest Albanian football players to ever play for the Albanian football team.

GK: Qemal Vogli (1929-2004)

Qemal Vogli was part of a lost generation of athletes who played under a heavily oppressive and isolationist regime. Political persecution significantly curbed his career. Yet, Vogli managed to show his impressive and entertaining talent in the few years he was active. For some, the Albanian emulated the contemporaneous and famous goalkeeper Lev Yashin. The keeper stood out for his decisive interventions off the post and acrobatic saves over the line.

On 25 May 1947, Vogli made his national team debut, aged 17, 17 months, and 26 days. That friendly match finished in a bitter 0-4 home loss against Romania. However, this appearance makes Qemal Vogli the youngest goalkeeper to debut for the Albanian national team. His debut in the national starting eleven came on 23 October 1949 at the away 1-1 draw, again against Romania. Vogli experienced the best run of matches for Albania during 1952-1953. The keeper helped his nation at home defeat strong Czechoslovakia twice in two weeks (3-2 home win on 19 November 1952 and 2-1 on 7 December 1951). On 29 November 1953, Vogli kept a clean sheet in Albania’s third consecutive win, defeating Poland 2-0.

Qemal Vogli (wearing a black shirt on the center) controlling the ball for Albania against Poland in a friendly match in Warsaw on 7 January 1953. Poland won this game 2-1. At that same year (on 29 November), Albania defeated Poland 2-0 in Tirana. This is a rare frame retrieved from a digitalised video chronicle of the National Polish Archive.
Qemal Vogli on January 7, 1953 in Poland-Albania 1-2; International Friendly.

RB: Fatmir Frashëri (1941-2019)

Fatmir Frashëri, one of the best complete right-backs in Albania, made his debut for his nation on 29 June 1963 in Copenhagen, Denmark. His side lost that match 0-4 to a more dominant opponent. However, Frashëri would help his side win the home game 1-0 against the same opponent four months later. This historic win against a gritty opponent in a competitive match marked Frashëri’s first and only win with the Albanian team.

On 11 October 1964, the left-back played his first international game as a KF Tirana player. That friendly home match ended up in a 1-1 draw against Algeria. The same score was registered about a year later (24 November 1965) against Northern Ireland, this time as an official World Cup Qualifications game. With the draw against Northern Ireland, Frashëri registered his last positive result in the red and black jersey. The Albanian full-back played his final match for his nation on 14 October 1970, in Chorzów against Poland (lost 0-3).

Zoomed photo of Fatmir Frashëri in his youth.
Zoomed photo of Fatmir Frashëri in his youth.

CB: Lorik Cana (1983)

Lorik Cana remains one of the most accomplished players to wear Albania’s national jersey. Coming from Prishtinë in Kosova, Cana was one of the first Albanians from Kosova to star for the Albanian national team. From there, he made his breakthrough in professional football with the French giants Paris Saint-Germain. While Cana preferred the defensive midfielder position in the club, he mostly played as a center-back for Albania. 

On 11 June 2003, Cana made his debut for Albania at 19 in the away 2-3 loss against Switzerland. He quickly became a solid leader of the red and black team, rightly deserving the role of captain for a record 39 matches. In all, Lorik Cana starred in 92 games, also a record as the player with the most national appearances ever for Albania. The charismatic defender helped his nation register a historic qualification into the final stage of a major tournament; the 2016 UEFA European Championship. Albania finished that group stage with pride, in third place behind France and Switzerland and registering a stunning 0-1 victory against Romania. 

Lorik Cana on September 7, 2014, after Portugal 0-1 Albania; European Qualifications Group I.
Lorik Cana on September 7, 2014, after Portugal 0-1 Albania; European Qualifications Group I.

CB: Rudi Vata (1969)

Rudi Vata was one of the most distinguished Albanian footballers in the 90s. He began his career in Shkodra with KF Vllaznia, a town renowned for gifted and young football talents in Albania. As an agile and confident center-back, Vata would soon take his career to the next level. On August 18, 1992, he signed a contract for the Scottish giants, Celtic FC.

Rudi Vata’s career with Albania’s national team was a long one. He registered his debut with Albania at 21 on May 30, 1990, in Reykjavik, in the 0-2 loss against Iceland. Vata played in 59 matches for Albania, scoring five times. Even though he and his teammates failed to secure qualification into a major tournament, he remained in the memory of the Albanian fans. His highlight with Albania occurred in 2000 when he won the Rothmans Football International Tournament. Even though this was a modest, four-team tournament, it was Albania’s first trophy after more than five decades.

Rudia Vata on March 24, 2001 in Germany 2-1 Albania; World Cup Qualifications Group 9.
Rudia Vata on March 24, 2001 in Germany 2-1 Albania; World Cup Qualifications Group 9.

LB: Altin Haxhi (1975)

According to IFFHS, Altin Haxhi is Albania’s best-ever left-back player. On 30 November 1995, Haxhi made his debut for Albania, at 21, in the 2-0 friendly home win against Bosnia Herzegovina. Haxhi quickly became a valuable left-foot player and a solid starter for the red and black team. The lefty played 67 games in total for his nation and scored three goals.

Apart from the left-back position, Haxhi could easily cover other roles such as left midfielder, left winger, right-back, and center-back. He excelled due to his intelligent positioning, training discipline, and athletic agility.

Altin Haxhi on March 30, 2005 in Greece 2-0 Albania; World Cup Qualifications Group 2.
Altin Haxhi on March 30, 2005 in Greece 2-0 Albania; World Cup Qualifications Group 2.

CDM: Altin Lala (1975)

Fans consider Altin Lala one of the most consistent and beloved players to ever play for Albania. Despite having short stature, Lala possessed everything that makes up an excellent defensive midfielder: abundant energy, remarkable pace, intelligent positioning, confident tackling, decisive interceptions, and even morale-boosting charisma. He showed these qualities consistently throughout his professional career, both for club and country. 

On 21 January 1998, Altin Lala made his debut for the Albanian national team in a friendly away match against Turkey. His side won that match with a remarkable 4-1 score, one of the nation’s best results. Another personal highlight came on 29 March 2003 when Lala scored the second goal in the memorable 3-1 home victory over Russia (valid for the 2004 EURO qualifiers). Overall, Altin Lala registered 79 caps for Albania and three goals. Of those caps, he played as captain on 22 occasions.

Altin Lala on May 27, 2008 in Poland 1-0 Albania; International Friendly.
Altin Lala on May 27, 2008 in Poland 1-0 Albania; International Friendly.

CM: Sulejman Demollari (1964)

Sulejman Demollari is considered one of the best Albanian football players of the democratic transition period. He was one of the most diverse midfielders to wear the Albanian national jersey. The talented Albanian midfielder became a football icon of the 90s football generation. Apart from playing as a central midfielder, he could give his best as an attacking midfielder and as a second striker. This diversity of position and the maintenance of high attacking effectiveness across a far and wide area reflected Demollari’s modern approach to football play.

Demollari made his debut for the national team on 27 April 1983, in the 1-0 loss against Northern Ireland. He quickly became a solid part of the starting eleven, playing competitively in multiple consecutive nations’ qualifiers. In 1984, Demollari helped the Albanian U-21 team reach the final 8 of the UEFA Under-21 Championship. On 22 December 1984, he was the key player in the famous 2-0 home win against Belgium.

Overall, Sulejman Demollari made a total of 45 memorable appearances for Albania with one scored goal (against Lithuania on 14 April 1993). In 18 such games, he played as a captain. On 7 October 1995, he registered his final appearance for the Albanian team (only five minutes on the pitch in the 0-3 away loss to Bulgaria). When he retired, Demollari left a clear gap in Albania’s midfield that would take years to recover. 

Sulejman Demollari on December 18, 1994 before Germany 2-1 Albania; European Qualifications Group 7.
Sulejman Demollari on December 18, 1994 before Germany 2-1 Albania; European Qualifications Group 7.

LW: Riza Lushta (1916-1997)

Riza Lushta was born in Mitrovicë of Kosova. He soon settled in Tirana, where a vibrant football community was flourishing. In the 1930s, he showcased his skills with the legendary Albanian squad of SK Tirana. Then, he thrived in Serie A for teams such as FC Bari (1939-1941), Juventus FC (1941-1945), and SSC Napoli (1945-1946). On 28 June 1942, Lushta became the first Albanian to win the Coppa Italia, helping Juventus win the final against AC Milan 4-1. The “flying Albanian” scored three times in that triumph. 

On 5 March 1936, Lushta played, under the instructions of the Hungarian coach Samo Singer, in the first-ever official match against Albania. Unfortunately, this was the only recorded match of Lushta with the Albanian side. After the Second World War, he refused to return to isolated Albania. Instead, he made history in Italy and enjoyed the well-deserved appreciation.

Despite the circumstances, Lushta’s name deserves a spot in Albania’s historic 11-men team. The most significant honor was done to him by the KF Trepça team that gave its stadium his name.

Riza Lushta on June 28, 1942 in Juventus F.C. 4-1 A.C. Milan; second leg of the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup).
Riza Lushta on June 28, 1942 in Juventus F.C. 4-1 A.C. Milan; second leg of the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup).

RW: Naim Kryeziu (1918-2010)

Naim Kryeziu belongs to the same generation of Albanian footballers as Riza Lushta. He is, no doubt, the best Albanian right winger in history. Kryeziu was born in Gjakovë, Kosova. Soon, he came to Tirana to play for KF Tirana and then, in 1939, joined AS Roma. His career highlight remains the championship title won with Roma in 1941-1942. He remains the first Albanian to win the Serie A. 

Like his mate Riza Lushta, Kryeziu was part of the team that played the first official match for the Albanian team and federation. On 5 March 1936, Kryeziu made his debut for Albania alongside his attacking teammate Lushta. Despite attempts to conduct further national matches, we cannot determine any other appearance of Naim Kryeziu for his nation’s side. The Second World War and the establishment of a communist regime in Albania caused Kryeziu to part ways with Albania.

A photograph of Naim Kryeziu in Italy.
A photograph of Naim Kryeziu in Italy.

ST: Loro Boriçi (1922-1984)

Loro Boriçi remains one of the most productive attackers in Albanian football history. In 1941, Boriçi secured a stunning transfer to the iconic club of the Italian capital, SS Lazio. With the Italians, he played for two consecutive, memorable seasons. In his two years in Italy (1941-1943), Boriçi recorded 20 appearances (18 games in Serie A and 2 in Italian Cup). 

Boriçi made his debut for the Albanian national football team on October 7, 1946, in the 2-3 home loss against the then Yugoslavia. A few days later, he captained his side during the historic 1-0 win against Romania (October 13, 1946). That win secured the Balkan Cup trophy for Albania, the only official triumph in the nation’s football history. Loro Boriçi played 23 games in total for Albania, scoring six goals. 

Apart from active football, Boriçi manifested managerial intelligence as a coach. His contribution to Albanian football remains irreplaceable. In his honor, the stadium of Shkodra, the second-largest in Albania, bears his name.

Loro Boriçi in October 13, 1946 holding the Balkans Cup trophy after Albania 1-0 Romania.
Loro Boriçi in October 13, 1946 holding the Balkans Cup trophy after Albania 1-0 Romania.

ST: Panajot Pano (1939-2010) 

Many consider Panajot Pano the greatest Albanian football player of all time. Pano made his debut for Albania in a friendly match on June 2, 1963. His first official match transpired at the end of that month (June 29, 1963) in the 4-0 away loss against Denmark. On October 30 of that same year, Panajot Pano scored the only goal against Denmark in the returning home match. This winning goal, available for the 1964 European Nations Cup, marked the first-ever Albanian team win in a qualifying match. 

Pano continued to play for Albania until 1973. By the time he retired from the national team, he had played in 24 matches, all as starting eleven, captaining at least seven of them, and scoring four goals. He was among the 50 shortlisted candidates for the 1970 Ballon d’Or; the only Albanian to ever appear on such a list. Pano showcased a broad vision of play, perfect for his role as both an attacker and as a number 10, the number he carried.

Panajot Pano captains Albania in the away game against Germany on 17 February 1971 (here he was trying to escape the mark of Karl Heinz Schnellinger in a match that Germany narrowly won 0-1). IMAGO / WEREK.
Panajot Pano on February 17, 1971 in Albania 0-1 Germany; European Qualifiers Group 8.


All-Time Albanian Men's Football Team Lineup.
All-Time Albanian Men’s Football Team Ultimate Lineup.

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