|Full name||Sabien Lilaj|
|Date of birth||10 February 1989|
|Place of birth||Maliq, Korçë County, Albania|
|Height||1.81 m (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 18 January 2016.
‡ National team caps and goals correct as of 13 June 2015
Sabien Lilaj (born 10 February 1989) is an Albanian footballer who plays for Skënderbeu Korçë in Albanian Superliga as well as the Albania national team. He is a versatile midfielder who mainly operates in a holding role, but he has also played in more advanced midfield roles.
Lilaj was born in Maliq, Korçë County, but moved to the capital Tirana along with his family at the age of eight, where he began playing football at the Loro Boriçi sports mastery school at the age of ten, playing for the school's football team Shkëndija Tiranë. In the summer of 2008, he went on trial with KF Tirana, where he was spotted by the head coach Blaž Slišković, who was impressed with the 19-year-old and signed him ahead of the 2008–09 campaign. He made his league debut in the opening game of the 2008–09 Albanian Superliga against Vllaznia Shkodër, where he started the game in midfield in the goalless draw. He scored his first professional goal in a 3–2 away win over local rivals Dinamo Tirana, and in total he made 20 league appearances in his debut season, where he also won the Albanian Superliga for the first time. He also made two appearances in the club's Albanian Cup run, where they reached the final but eventually lost to Flamurtari Vlorë.
The following season, Lilaj made his European debut in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League against Norwegian side Stabæk, a match which ended in a 1–1 draw. He also started the return leg that ended in a 4–0 loss to his side which send his side eliminated from Europe. He came on at half time for Blerti Hajdari in the 2009 Albanian Supercup as they defeated Flamurtari Vlorë 1–0, the side that beat them in the previous cup final. In the league, he made 23 appearances, most of which were off the bench as he struggled to establish himself in midfield in a season where his side failed to win the league where they finished third, or the cup where they reached the third round.
Lilaj began the 2010–11 season playing against Hungarian side Zalaegerszegi TE in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League, where both legs finished in goalless draws, meaning that extra time was needed after the second leg in Zalaegerszeg, where KF Tirana won the tie through an Erando Karabeci free-kick in the 107th minute. His side were drawn against Dutch side FC Utrecht, where they lost the first leg 4–0 away at the Stadion Galgenwaard, but they held Utrecht to a 1–1 in the return leg at the Qemal Stafa Stadium but were ultimately knocked out of the competition. In the Albanian Superliga, his side struggled throughout the season and they finished in fifth place out of 12 teams, just two points above the relegation playoff places, but Lilaj still managed to show some good form as he made 24 appearances and scored one goal. His side did, however, have a successful Albanian Cup run as they defeated Dinamo Tirana on penalties in the final to win their first Albanian Cup since 2006. Lilaj scored once in the run up to the final, as well as featuring in six games, including both legs of the quarter- and semi-finals, respectively and the final, where he played the full 120 minutes as KF Tirana won on penalties to rescue their season. He was then allowed to leave the club at the end of the season, as did many other first team players, including Andi Lila, Jahmir Hyka, Tefik Osmani and Pero Pejić.
In the summer transfer window of 2011, Lilaj joined Croatian Prva HNL side NK Lokomotiva, where he struggled to compete with the likes of Mateo Poljak and Marcelo Brozović for a first team place. He made just 15 league appearances as his side finished in a respectable seventh place out of 16 teams; his side also did not qualify for the 2011–12 Croatian Football Cup, meaning he could not play any other games that season. Despite having a difficult personal season, his performances did attract the interest of Albania national team head coach Josip Kuže, who gave him his first senior international call up and cap. After one season in Croatia, he left Lokomotiva to return to Albania, where he was subject to interest from a host of Albanian Superliga sides in the summer of 2012.
He returned to his birthplace and signed a three-year contract with reigning Superliga champions Skënderbeu Korçë on 7 August 2012, where he once again teamed up with Ditmar Bicaj, Ivan Gvozdenović, Pero Pejić, Sebino Plaku and Daniel Xhafa, who had all been his teammates at KF Tirana. He made his debut for the club in the 2012 Albanian Supercup, where he started the game but was substituted off in the second half in the 2–1 defeat to his former side Tirana. He impressed in his first season at Skënderbeu Korçë, despite competition in the centre of midfield with captain Bledi Shkëmbi and Nurudeen Orelesi. On 3 October 2012, he scored his first goal in nearly 20 months against Olimpik in a 7–2 Albanian Cup win which also saw him receive a red card in the 85th minute. He scored in the very next game on 6 October in a Superliga match against Shkumbini Peqin. He featured in 20 league games and scored four league goals to help his side retain the Superliga title for a third consecutive season. In the Albanian Cup, he scored four goals in five appearances, including his side's only goal in the semi finals against Bylis Ballsh, who knocked out Skënderbeu Korçë after a 2–1 aggregate win over two legs. He scored 8 times in 30 games in all competitions in the 2012–13 season.
As Lilaj's side won the league the previous season, he began the 2013–14 campaign playing in the second qualifying round of the Champions League, where he played against Azerbaijani side Neftchi PFK, which Skënderbeu Korçë defeated 1–0 on aggregate after extra time, as both legs ended in goalless draws in regulation time. In the next round they faced Kazakh side Shakhter Karagandy, which defeated Skënderbeu Korçë 3–0 in the first leg, but Lilaj and his side showed resilience in the return leg as they went 3–0 up in the opening 29 minutes, only to concede twice either side of half time to win the game 3–2 as they ultimately lost the tie 5–3 on aggregate that saw them get knocked out of the Champions League. They did, however, qualify for the playoff round of the Europa League, where they were drawn against Ukrainian side Chornomorets Odesa, with the first leg in Ukraine ending in 1–0 loss for Skënderbeu. In the return leg in Albania, his side won the game 1–0 and took the tie to extra time, which did not produce any goals meaning the tie went to penalties for a spot in the group stage of the Europa League. Lilaj took his side's fifth penalty and successfully converted, but his teammates Nurudeen Orelesi and Bakary Nimaga missed the next two penalties as his side lost 7–6.
On 12 August 2014, Lilaj signed a two–year contract with Polish Ekstraklasa side Ruch Chorzów, where he even completed his medical and was presented to the media, only for the move to be annulled. He therefore returned to Skënderbeu Korçë for another season as the Albanian side claimed to have automatically renewed his contract at the end of the 2013–14 season for another year.
On 5 November 2015, Lilaj scored twice in just under 20 minutes as Skënderbeu recorded a 3–0 victory over Sporting CP in the 2015–16 UEFA Europa League group stage. His first goal was scored after fellow teammates Peter Olayinka and Esquerdinha missed opportunities, but Lilaj netted in the rebound to put Skënderbeu ahead 1–0. His second came from the penalty spot as fellow teammate Liridon Latifi was fouled by Sporting goalkeeper Rui Patrício, who was then sent off. Lilaj scored the resulting penalty past substitute goalkeeper Marcelo Boeck to put Skënderbeu 2–0 up at the Elbasan Arena. Skënderbeu eventually ran out 3–0 winners and recorded their first ever win in a major tournament.
On 28 December 2015, Lilaj was named Albanian Superliga Player of the Year.
Albania youth squads
Lilaj was first selected for Albania under-21s on 22 October 2008 by Artan Bushati for a friendly against neighbouring country Macedonia. He was picked in the 23-man squad that would be travelling to Macedonia for the friendly along with two other KF Tirana players, Enri Tafaj and Migen Metani. However, he would not be able ot play the friendly in Ohrid on 19 November 2008 due to an injury incurred just days before the fixture. This meant that fellow Tirana teammate Metani took his place in the squad. He was again picked by Bushati in February 2009, this time preparation for the UEFA U-21 Championship. He was picked in the squad once again with fellow club teammate Metani.
Albania senior team
|KF Tirana||2008–09||Albanian Superliga||20||1||2||0||—||—||22||1|
|Skënderbeu Korçë||2012–13||Albanian Superliga||20||4||5||4||—||1||0||26||8|
|International appearances and goals|
|1||7 October 2011||Stade de France, Paris, France||France||3–0||0||Loss||UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying|
|2||11 October 2011||Qemal Stafa Stadium, Tirana, Albania||Romania||1–1||0||Draw||UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying|
|3||15 November 2011||Goce Delcev Stadium, Prilep, Macedonia||Macedonia||0–0||0||Draw||Friendly|
|4||22 May 2012||Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas, Madrid, Spain||Qatar||1–2||0||Win||Friendly|
|5||27 May 2012||BJK İnönü Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey||Iran||0–1||0||Win||Friendly|
|6||14 November 2012||Stade de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland||Cameroon||0–0||0||Draw||Friendly|
|7||26 March 2013||Qemal Stafa Stadium, Tirana, Albania||Lithuania||4–1||0||Win||Friendly|
|8||15 November 2013||Akdeniz University Stadium, Antalya, Turkey||Belarus||0–0||0||Draw||Friendly|
|9||31 May 2014||Stade Municipal, Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland||Romania||0–1||0||Loss||Friendly|
|10||8 June 2014||San Marino Stadium, Serravalle, San Marino||San Marino||0–3||0||Win||Friendly|
- KF Tirana
- Skënderbeu Korçë
- Albanian Superliga Player of the Month (1): October 2012
- Albanian Superliga Player of the Year (1): 2015
- "Tirana (2008-2009)" (in Albanian). Sporti Shqiptar. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
- Vllaznia 0–0 KF Tirana
- Stabæk smiling after Tirana draw
- Swedes steal show for Stabæk
- RSSSF Albanian Cup 200–09
- KF Tirana 0–0 Zalaegerszegi
- KF Tirana 1–0 Zalaegerszegi
- Utrecht 4–0 KF Tirana
- KF Tirana 1–1 Utrecht
- Tirana shade Dinamo in Albanian Cup final
- Shkëmbi: Ju tregoj bisedën me Levin, Skënderbeu do të jetë serish për titull
- Skënderbeu Korçë 2012–13
- KF Tirana 2–1 Skënderbeu
- Skënderbeu 7–2 Olimpik
- Skënderbeu 2–0 Shkumbini
- Skënderbeu 1–1 Bylis
- Skënderbeu stifle Neftçi in Baku stalemate
- Skënderbeu strike late to end Neftçi resistance
- Shakhter on top after Skënderbeu success
- Shakhter survive huge fright to earn play-off debut
- Chornomorets 1–0 Skënderbeu
- Skënderbeu 1–0 Chornomorets
- Sabien Lilaj, kontratë dyvjeçare me Ruç në Poloni
- Sabien Lilaj në Poloni, firmos për Ruch Chorzow
- Çështja “Sabien Lilaj”, polakët kërcënojnë Skënderbeun në UEFA: Të pezullohet lojtari
- Firmos talenti Bruno Lulaj, sot pritet rikthimi i Lilajt
- Alfred Lleshi (28 December 2015). "Sabjen Lilaj zgjidhet mes "10 sportistëve të vitit" nga KOKSH-i" (in Albanian). Telesport.al. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
- Jorgis Memo (2008-10-22). "Bushati shpall emrat e rinj të U-21" (in Albanian). Sporti Shqiptar. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
- "Dëmtimi, Lilaj zëvendësohet me Metanin" (in Albanian). Sporti Shqiptar. 2008-11-14. Retrieved 2010-06-01.
- Ilir Cara (2009-02-12). "Misioni i Shpresave, më larg se fusha e lojës" (in Albanian). Sporti Shqiptar. Retrieved 2010-06-02.
- Sabien Lilaj at National-Football-Teams.com
- "Albania - S. Lilaj - Profile with news, career statistics and history". Soccerway. 18 January 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
- "Football : Sabien Lilaj". Football Database. 18 January 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
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