Kosovo get ready for international bow
"This match will break the ice, it is the end of isolation" of Kosovo in international football, their federation (FFK) chairman Fadil Vokrri told AFP ahead of the match.
The match against Haiti will overcome a long impasse that saw Kosovar teams in all sports internationally isolated after Pristina unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008.
The breakaway territory is recognised as a new state by more than 100 countries, including the United States and 23 out of 28 European Union member states, but not by Serbia or its traditional ally Russia.
Serbia has been fiercely opposing Pristina`s membership in the United Nations. As a consequence, Kosovo are also unable to join football`s world governing body FIFA and many other international sporting organisations.
However, on January 13, FIFA`s emergency committee gave Kosovo`s national team the green light to play matches following Vokrri`s lobbying and long negotiations with Serbian football officials.
"This is FIFA`s decision, it is in accordance with the recommendations of our government, the case is closed," said Tomislav Karadzic, head of Serbia`s Football Association.
The match against Haiti will be played at the Adem Jashari stadium in the northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica, which has a capacity of 29,000.
It is the only ground in Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian-majority territory with a population of 1.8 million, which meets FIFA requirements.
Kosovo`s government has invested some 740,000 euros ($1 million) in upgrading a stadium where the last international match was played in 1979, when the then Yugoslavia beat Romania 2-1.
After FIFA`s decision, Kosovo`s federation has used a budget of 25,000 euros to buy a set of balls and two sets of national jerseys for the team, who have so far played non-recognised friendlies against Malta and Monaco.
However, Kosovo will not be allowed to fly their national flag or play their anthem before the match on FIFA`s request to prevent Serbia from opposing the decision.
Politics aside, the main buzz in Kosovo is the composition of the squad, with many fans pinning their hopes on seeing `child prodigy` Adnan Januzaj, the 19-year-old Manchester United winger, on the pitch.
Many talented players have left Kosovo in the past, mostly for Germany, Austria, Albania and Switzerland, as they had no chance to shine with local clubs.
Among those who could also feature are goalkeeper Samir Ujkani and midfielder Perparim Hetemaj, who are both based in Italy.
Although the tickets for the match against Haiti cost between three and 10 euros -- not affordable to many in a territory where unemployment has already gone beyond 35 percent -- fans are eager to obtain them.
"I am so impatient and ready to pay 10 times more to be there because it will be a historic day that we will tell our grandchildren about," said 47-year old shopkeeper Beqir Hoti.
For 24-year-old student Veton Kelmendi, the date of the first FIFA-approved match will become "as important as February 17," when Kosovo proclaimed independence.
"Whatever the outcome of the match will be, we have already won," Kelmendi told AFP.
Hundreds of Kosovars living abroad have already bought their tickets, FFK official Eroll Salihu revealed.
"The interest is huge, we have hundreds of orders from abroad every day," Salihu said.
Vokrri said that "there will be no turning back" now for football in Kosovo.
"The new goal is to obtain FIFA membership," said Vokrri, a football legend in Kosovo having been a prominent striker in the 1980s.
AFP --------------------- ZEENEWS.com