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Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Albanian chief accused of 'selling' Euro qualifiers

TIRANA, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Albania's soccer team has been branded a 'mafia group' by Prime Minister Sali Berisha while the country's culture minister accused the President of the National Soccer Federation of 'selling' two Euro 2008 qualifiers.

In a letter addressed to UEFA last month and made public earlier this week, Culture Minister Ylli Pango called upon the sport's governing body in Europe to investigate 'clear suspicions that both matches might have been sold by the President of our National Soccer Federation'.

'This is clear evidence that he is using our national soccer team's matches for his own interests, insulting the feelings of its fans and supporters,' Pango wrote.

'Therefore, I kindly invite UEFA to investigate both matches,' he added.

Albania lost 4-2 at home to Belarus and 6-1 away to Romania in the last two Euro 2008 qualifiers. Coach Otto Baric resigned after the unsuccessful campaign.

Pango's letter to Gianni Infantino, UEFA's Director of Legal Service and Club Licensing, was released after Prime Minister Sali Berisha said the national team had brought shame on Albanians.

'This is mafia group that tramples upon the flag,' Berisha said on local television.

'Let the nation be not represented for a time rather than be represented by a mafia that sells their shirts.'

The players defended their reputation and asked Berisha to stop reaching 'hasty' conclusions, threatening to sue him if the investigation proved they were not to blame.

The leftist opposition and the soccer federation said they hoped the attack was not political after the federation resisted government pressure to become fully audited two years ago.

Armando Duka, the soccer federation head, is the brother of an agriculture minister in the Socialist government that Berisha ousted in June 2005.

Arben Bici, the soccer federation's secretary, said they welcomed the investigation, and asked the government to supply any evidence of match-fixing.

UEFA confirmed to Reuters the letter had been received but would not comment on the matter further.




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