Kosovo set for World Cup debut but waits for nation-switching players to be cleared

By Andrew Warshaw

September 1 – Of all the countries taking part in the forthcoming World Cup qualifying programme, none is surely anticipating the occasion with more relish than Kosovo who make their competitive international debut on Monday. Yet the Balkan state, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, still needs confirmation from FIFA whether a raft of players can switch nationality to join them.

Despite fierce resistance from Serbia, after a lengthy battle for recognition Kosovo were finally accepted as a member of UEFA in May and then FIFA shortly afterwards.

However, they are still waiting to find out exactly who they can select for their historic upcoming tie with Finland.

“We have two or three days to receive confirmation for nine more players but we are prepared for every situation, we know we will get positive confirmation but we have to wait their reply,” Kosovo’s coach Albert Bunjaki told Reuters.

“Kosovo has a very good future in football but patience is needed. I know we are in a tough group for World Cup qualifiers and five games will be played away.”

Kosovo’s opener will be away in the Finnish city of Turku. Others in their group include Croatia, Turkey, Euro 2016 quarterfinalists Iceland and Ukraine.

If they could choose from anyone they pleased with Kosovan roots they could put together an impressive line-up.  A total of 24 players with Kosovan origins currently play for six other national teams including 14 who were with Albania at Euro 2016.

So far, four former members of the Albanian squad have reportedly opted to switch including highly rated winger Milot Rashica. So has Albert Bunjaku who was in the Swiss squad at the 2010 World Cup. Four other Swiss  players could theoretically also change should FIFA give the green light: Valon Behrami. Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Shani Tarashaj but so far none of them have made the move.

Off the field, because of a total lack of investment, Kosovo does not yet have a stadium that meets international standards. That is expected to be resolved by next summer. In the meantime they will play they opening home qualifier against Croatia on October 6 in the Albanian city of Shkodra.

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