The Albanian Football Association has called on the country’s prime minister to let vaccinated fans attend the national team’s World Cup Qualifier against England.
The association asked prime minister Edi Rama for help in a bid to fill 30 per cent of the seats – or about 6,500 – at the National Arena in Tirana for Sunday’s match.
“I would suggest that all persons who have been vaccinated, profiting from the mass vaccination that you as a government have been holding … are allowed at the stadium,” association president Armand Duka wrote in his letter, which was made available to The Associated Press.
Only about 50,000 medical personnel, teachers and people over 80 have been vaccinated against the coronavirus so far in Albania, which has a population of 2.8 million.
The Albanian Health Ministry had denied the association’s request due to rising daily cases of the virus.
In the last two weeks there have been repeated efforts to allow fans. Edoardo Reja, Albania’s Italian coach, has said spectators would motivate his players, and that football without fans “cannot exist”.
“The match with spectators has a different taste,” Reja said last week.
They said the request for 30 per cent capacity is in line with UEFA rules.
Albania open their qualifying campaign on Thursday at Andorra. They host England on Sunday and play at San Marino next Wednesday. Poland and Hungary are the other teams in Group I.
“I am confident that you will consider this request for the good of the Albanian football and the love our fans have for the red-and-black shirt,” Duka wrote.
There have been no spectators at football matches in Albania for months, and gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.
‘Not the time for England experimentation’
Former England forward Paul Merson says upcoming fixtures are not the right time for manager Gareth Southgate to be experimenting.
England’s World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland are the last fixtures they will play until June, when they have two scheduled warm-up matches before starting their European Championships campaign.
“Gareth needs to nail this team down and how we’re going to play,” Merson said. “I don’t think we’re at a stage now, with the tournament starting in June, where we’re experimenting and giving caps out.
“I think we need to get a steady team and then maybe with 15/20 minutes to go, if we wrap these games up and get players on to give them a bit experience, I don’t think we have time for experiments now.
“These European Championships, they’re just as hard to win as the World Cup, if not harder. If you look at the world, there’s only maybe only Brazil or Argentina that can win a World Cup that aren’t in Europe. Every now and again, you’ll get a couple of ‘gimme games’ in the World Cup, but there aren’t any of those in the Euros. If you lose your first game, you’re up against it and we need to hit the ground running.”