Jubilant scenes: FIFA clears Kosovo players for first-ever qualifier
Kosovo will play in its first-ever competitive match on Monday and on the same day as their 2018 World Cup qualifier against Finland, manager Albert Bunjaki still wasn’t sure who he could select.
That has all been sorted out by FIFA hours before their Group I opener versus Finland in Turku.
[ MORE: Rapinoe’s anthem protest ]
Six players -- Amir Rrahmani, Valon Berisha, Alban Meha, Herolind Shala, Milot Rashica and Samir Ujkani -- have all been given the green-light to play for the Balkan territory which was formally part of Serbia.
That decision has sparked wild scenes among the squad as they celebrated being allowed to play for the country of their birth.
Kosovo has only been a FIFA member since May after breaking away from Serbia in 2008. In the interim they’ve been playing unofficial games and that’s led to plenty of confusion over who can play for Kosovo as players have chosen to play for other nations until they were recognized by FIFA.
FIFA has already allowed nine players to switch allegiance to Kosovo as they previously represented six different nations between them, with FIFA’s dual nationality rules stretched to new boundaries. Of the six players who were awaiting on a decision from FIFA to have their switch ratified, five have appeared for the Albanian national team in recent years, while Berisha has represented Norway.
Some star players originally from Kosovo have also spoke about playing for the Balkan territory as Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri both qualify, plus former Albanian national team captain Lorik Cana did but he’s now retired. Arsenal midfielder Xhaka has already ruled out playing for Kosovo but Shaqiri spoke about it during EURO 2016 and everyone is watching the former Bayern Munich and Inter Milan star closely to see if he switches allegiance.
Kosovo also face Croatia, Iceland, Turkey and Ukraine in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, so getting the likes of Shaqiri on board (as complicated as they could prove to be) would be a huge boost.
The photo below shows captain and goalkeeper Ujkani celebrating in Finland when he found out on Monday he could represent his nation later in the day in their first-ever competitive match.