Oct 12, 2016

Kosovo: First World Cup Qualifiers for the Newest FIFA Member

Photo courtesy of ESPNFC.com.


On 6 October 2016, Kosovo made its debut on the international football stage as the national team played its first FIFA World Cup qualifying match as a host nation. The lack of stadium meeting international standards meant that the game was played in neighbouring Albania, but this is nonetheless a step towards greater recognition of Kosovo. It comes only two months after the country sent its first delegation and won its first gold medal in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.


The article below was published in The Economic Times:


The gleaming Loro Borici Stadium was deserted. Children played on the empty turnstiles. Adults milled about a vegetable market on the edges of the stadium.

There was little to suggest that it would be the stage for a football game of historical importance to the host nation, Kosovo — no posters, flags or other paraphernalia were in evidence. But then again, Shkoder is in Albania, not Kosovo.

Kosovo has faced many uphill battles in its recent history: a gruelling rebel insurgency against Serbian rule in the late 1990s; nine years of UN stewardship before its unilateral declaration of independence in 2008; and a struggle to gain widespread international recognition in the years since. So in May, when FIFA recognised Kosovo’s independence, it was cause for massive celebration for the country’s majority ethnic Albanian population.

But FIFA’s recognition has also highlighted problems, not the least of which is that Kosovo, Europe’s poorest nation, does not have a stadium that meets international standards. For this reason, its first World Cup qualifying match as a host nation had to be held in neighbouring Albania.

There was an added twist: Many of Albania’s own national team players are Albanians from Kosovo, and some have already switched allegiance back to Kosovo since FIFA announced it would recognise the country.

After making the five-hour trip across the mountainous border that separates the two countries, thousands of Kosovo fans descended from their buses with a roar, their journey to the stadium filled with firecrackers, blue and yellow flares and chants of “Ethnic Albania,” a reference to the idea of a Greater Albania that would unite ethnic Albanians who are split among five countries: Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece and Albania.

A steady drizzle that began as the whistle blew for kickoff did not dampen the roar of the crowd. That job was left to Croatia, which shut out Kosovo, 6-0, last Thursday. The biggest cheer of the second half came when it was announced that Albania was leading Liechtenstein, 2-0.

Kosovo’s next match was against Ukraine, but it was held in Poland because Ukraine does not recognise Kosovo and refuses to host the match. Ukraine won 3-0. The 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia, another country that does not recognise Kosovo’s independence.