From UVIL ZAJMI
Memorie.al / It was not just a qualification, but after “Partizan” in 1961, more in “pole position”, in the Champions Cup, now it is “Dinamo” of Tirana. Beyond the net, will be the Italians of “Virtus”, a potent opponent, since the difficulty, it is almost impossible to match them. They have experience in such meetings, quality players, treatments, sponsorships, conditions. But how was it born and how was it built the most spectacular formation in Albanian boys’ volleyball, in the second half of the last century? What was that 6 that surprised, not only the national reality, but also that outside the borders of communist Albania?
The meetings and surprises with the Italians, the challenges with the Dutch “Bloker” and the elimination for two points due to the unfair decisions of the referees. From the pair of giants; Russia-Bonati, in an interesting journey never told before, which they bring back among the facts, events, rare photos, of the protagonists of those confrontations: the unique diary of Vangjel Kojë and an interview after so many years from Germany, with Ylli Shehu, the legendary captain of that team: “In Bologna they made us ‘Honorary Citizens’ because the mayor was a communist.”
FROM THE SPORTS PARK BEHIND THE PRIME MINISTRY, WHERE IT ALL BEGAN…!
The 1960s-1970s, there would be some different moments in national volleyball, when a new team would suddenly appear on the scene. Starting from the Handball Sports Park behind the Prime Minister’s Office, the team of Vangjel Kojë, the man who would design the most famous six in the history of Albanian men’s volleyball, “Dinamon” takes its route there! With the intuition of a professional, coach-player Koja, alongside the well-known names of the club, B. Totozani, N. Ketri, J. Malaj, A. Mero, H. Kotoni, F. Kola, P. Shehu, Xh. Aga, P. Maçi, Q. Gjinali, B. Tafili, F. Jakova, M. Jorgoni, brings talented young people from Y. Shehu, Radi, Panteqi, Lulolli, Tartari, Rusi, Bonati, Lena, Terihati, Starja, etc. ., encouraging the rivalry of the time, which in those years was dominated by the “Partizan” of Murzak, Aga, etc.
Suddenly in the sports environment, a new “Dinamo”, enthusiastic, threatening, ambitious, with a frightening explosion will appear on the horizon. Champion in 1964, for eight years without interruption, the 6th will be a plurifiter in the country, stunning the continental sports opinion, even the Euro-finalist. Well structured, with stability in results, with a game that was based on virtuosity, experience, harmony, the technical baggage of the players, able to solve any situation. With Vagjel Koja’s “Dinamon”, which time would confirm more than one strategist, the cycle of a great progress, even epochal, of national and club volleyball would begin.
ASLLAN RUSSIA, RARE EXCHANGE AND BONATI, GREAT MISSING
“It may have been the year 1958, after a friendly meeting with the youth of Tirana, where a young man with a thin, tall body caught the eye, which was playing barefoot that day. I proposed to Thanas Mitrushi, the coach of Tirana, that we make a change by giving one of my athletes. His name was Asllan Rusi, physically he was weak, but in a short time he changed”, recalls Koja, the first meeting with the young man, Asllan Rusi
Caliber player, irresistible, with strong character, passion and iron will. 189 cm. tall, leading shooter, high jump, hit hard on the block, with consistent layups. Scary even when he was on the front line. Decisive in many international meetings, a real leader, took the fate of the game in hand, knew no opponents. Jean Bonati, in position 3, with very good physical qualities, 187 cm., discovered by the school championships, approached “Dinamo” since its creation.
Koja: “Asllani and Zhan, they were like two twins”.
“Beautiful bodies, with incredible will, but also many friends. Polite, educated, from the beginning they created a potent duo with a future, not only for “Dinamon”, but also for national volleyball. With great passion in training, from barbells, parallel bars, running, you would find them together until the late hours on the track of the “Dinamo” stadium, as the stadium worker told me. Due to a family problem, as has happened to many athletes unfairly hit by the system, in 1966, he was gathered for China, but they did not allow him to come. After that, Zhani spent with the “Dajti” team, where he played for several seasons”, concludes Koja.
THE PHENOMENAL CYCLE STARTS, “VIRTUS” IS THE FIRST “VICTIM”…!
Although he is the champion in 1964, the participation in the Champions Cup will come after two years, precisely in the 1966-1967 season, when in advance in August the team leaves for a friendly tour in the People’s Republic of China, where in 7 matches, it wins 3 of theirs. For Albanian volleyball, participation in international tournaments with clubs refers only to “Partizan” in 1961, while with the national team; there are several of them, the one for the qualifiers of the European Championship in Kiev of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in 1962, including those with the Chinese.
To come to “Virtus”, Bolognese team, champion of Italy that year and it was the first time, playing with an Italian club, Western formation, which is reflected everywhere, in quality, mentality, strength, results, experience. The first match in Tirana, at the “Partizani” Sports Palace, overflows. There is mutual curiosity, to see our “Dynamo”, but also “Virtus”.
To return to that meeting, apart from the “Sport” of December 1966, we also have a rare, extraordinary document, which coach Vangjel Koja offered us. It is the diaries, where he has almost the most sports part of his career, which he keeps very carefully. “After the title, “Dinamo” will play in the Champions Cup, in the first representation. We had little information, a big name of a country with volleyball on the rise…”, we read from what he took note of. A diary that will also serve us for “Dinamo Euro Final ’72”.
DEEP VICTORY THAT SCARED ITALIANS
“DINAMO”-“VIRTUS” 3-0 (15-10; 15-3; 15-5)
Tirana, December 2, 1965, “Partizani” Sports Palace.
“DINAMO”: Ylli Shehu, Asllan Rusi, Sharofi, Ali Bushati, Kreshnik Tartari, Panteqi. Coach: Vangjel Koja.
“VIRTUS”: Xupiroli, Tedeski, Meskoli, Fangarexhi, Guideti, Xaneti. Coach: O. Fedezone.
JUDGES: A. Kosič (from Yugoslavia), referee of the International Category, Albert Saqellari (assistant) referee of the First Category of the People’s Republic of Albania and B. Fuga and N. Preka, siders. SPECTATORS: 4,000
In the newspaper “Sporti Popullor”, of December 6, 1972, on the front page, under the headline “Dinamo’s beautiful start”, the slogan is clearly visible: “Under the leadership of the party, let’s raise the revolutionary spirit in physical culture and sports… “! We read a passionate article by Mirush Strazimiri, accompanied by interviews after the meeting.
“This match aroused great interest among the sports fans that filled the seats of the “Partizani” Sports Palace, as well as thousands of others, who did not have the opportunity to closely follow “Dinamon”, in this first test, with responsibility. Until now, the national volleyball teams of Albania and Italy have played in the world or European championships 3 times and we lost all three times: 1955 in Bucharest 2-3; 1958 in Prague 0-3 and in 1962 in Moscow 1-3. With the champion team of Italy, 3 players are effective of the national team while 3 others are activated with it.
The night before, in training as well as during the warm-up, we noticed that the champion team of Italy had strong shooters, including Fangarexhi and Xupiroli, of an international class and consisted of tall players, with good technical and athletic preparation. So, hard bone to gnaw on, and all the possible endings seemed. However, Dynamo didn’t want to take all this into account. They know that they have a strong opponent in front of them and it should be defeated with as positive a result as possible in order to create a ‘reserve’ of the necessary points and sets, for an international Cup with two meetings”.
“I argue the deep victory with great mobilization, with lively play in defense and attack, avoiding mistakes as much as possible. I am satisfied with all the players. I was convinced that Dinamo would win when I noticed that the Italians did not process the first ball properly and their powerful attack could not explode. It will be difficult in Italy, but I have faith in the strength of the team”.
“My game focused on the quality of the pass, for our shooters to shoot on the opponents’ disorganized block or one block. In the return match we will qualify”.
ODONI FEDERZONE, COACH OF “VIRTUS”
“We didn’t know much about Dynamo, we didn’t expect her to play so well. This was also said by some players who played in Moscow in 1962 against you. From your team, I liked the “big one” who shot with both hands and who scored a lot of points for us, I’m talking about Shehu, while the “little one” is about Panteq. This is not the level and strength of our team. In Bologna, anything can happen.” While Xuproli, shaking hands with our players, says: “You have won, we wish you success against the Dutch”.
“VIRTUS” – “DINAMO” 3-0 (15-11, 15-11 AND 15-6) IN ITALY, HISTORIC QUALIFICATION!
The return match took place on December 10. The team consisted of; Ylli Shehu, Asllan Rusi, Kreshnik Tartari, Panteqi, Enis Terihati, Ilir Lena and Lulolli and as reinforcements, the Shkodrans Ali Bushati and Jubani, Driza from Vlonia, Pelivani and Sharofi from “17 November”, while the team manager is Vaskë Afezolli, the boss of Sports Club “Dinamo”. Ali Lulolli recalls: “Since the trip was to be made on Tuesday, with the airline ‘Alitalia’, due to bad weather, it was announced that the plane would arrive on Thursday.
So it was decided that the departure would take place with “Skënderbeu”, a cargo ship, Durrës-Ravena. About 30 hours, sleeping in the rooms and beds vacated by the sailors, a long, tiring journey. Then, with a 20-seater Fiat bus, at noon the team settles in a hotel in the center of Bologna. Exhausted, no cognitive training, dinner in a restaurant and a visit to the hall, where it will be played.
The next evening the match. The newspaper “Sporti Popullor” in a short notice informs: “On Sunday evening, late at night, the return match between the champion of Italy “Virtus” and our champion “Dinamo” took place in Bologna (Italy), valid for the first round of the Champions Cup in volleyball. According to the data available to our editors, the match ended 3-0 in favor of the home team, 15-11, 15-11 and 15-6. Despite the loss, “Dinamo” was qualified for the next round of the Cup, due to the best point difference.
With a score difference of 45-18/45-28, (83-73 in total), “Dinamo” registers the first big surprise in that historic qualification. “The problem was the height, since with a body height of 1.60 m. like Panteqi and Tartari, who were important players in the formation, and who played simultaneously, we managed to create difficulties for the opponent”, says Xhel Koja. In Bologna, “Dinamo” plays with: Shehu, Rusi, Panteqi, Tartari, Bushati and Sharofi.
THE HAGUE, THE GREAT INJUSTICE, IN THE NAME OF A SEAL
The next opponent will be “Bloker”, from The Hague, the champion of the Netherlands. The first challenge played on January 7, 1967 in Tirana shocked them: 3-0, for the Koja team (15-10; 15-11; 15-9), a victory that will boost enthusiasm. But in “L’Aja” (Den Haag), the figures will be reversed to 0-3 for the hosts (15-10; 15-13; 15-5) and for only two points (45-30/ 45-28) , they ensure the qualification.
There are claims from the staff of the Albanian team, about the unilateral decisions of the referees, who, informed about the small difference in points, were decisive in determining the result, helping the locals, especially in the last points of the second set. The foreign press of the time would determine: “The West German referee denied the Albanians the 14th point in the second set, after which they would have scored the 15th, but that set was closed 15-13 for the locals”.
Although “Dinamo” is eliminated, the representation is more than dignified. Undisputed absolute champion without rivals in Albania, in the following edition, 1967-1968, in the Champions Cup, the draw will collide with “Partizan” from Belgrade, which has tall players, physical strength and ambition. In Tirana, December 1967, 3-2, for Koja’s six, while the return has no history, 3-0 for the Yugoslavs, who pass the tour. To come to the 1968-1969 season, with “Dinamo” – “Muhafiz – Guxu” (Istanbul), but 3-0 before and on February 9, ’69, “Dinamo” – “CSKA” (Sofje) 1-3 in Tirana and 0-3 in Bulgaria.
The 1969-1970 seasons will start with “Dinamo” – “Akademik” (Sofje), but, due to the absence of the opponent, again in the second round, it is the Dutch “Delta-Loid”, who dominates 6-1 with sets (3-0/1-3) after two meetings. We come at the end of 1970, to see an unstoppable “Euro-Dinamo”. Initially with two consecutive qualifications: In Athens, November, “Panathinaikos” – “Dinamo”, 2-3 (15-7; 8-15; 11-15; 16-14; 13-15) and victory 3-0 with the points the first (15-12; 15-3; 15-6) in “Partizani”.
In December, in Zagreb, “Mladost” – “Dinamo” 3-1 (15-8; 4-15; 15-10; 15-11) and with one set, hope after a week is played in Tirana, but neither 3-0 (15-5; 15-11; 15-10) will be needed for “Dynamo”. But this is where the dynamic adventure will end, because in January 1971, Zetor is in front: 3-0 in “Bërno” and 1-3 in Albania. But 1972 will come quickly and continental volleyball will be shocked when an extraordinary “Dinamo” will appear in the “Final Four” of Brussels. Memorie.al