Kosovo steps on world football stage with historic goal
by Daily Sabah
ISTANBULSep 07, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah
Sep 07, 2016 12:00 am
Kosovo played its first competitive match Monday as Valon Berisha made history by scoring the country's first-ever goal after it declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and joined FIFA in May. Amid last-minute confusion about which players are eligible to play for Kosovo, soccer's newest national team started its first World Cup qualifier convincingly with a 1-1 draw against Finland, which has tried to reach the finals 18 times before. Mehmet Hetemaj, a naturalized Finn of Kosovar Albanian descent, who has played on Finland's national team, described the Kosovans as "hungrier."
"They really wanted to win. They were there to win," he said. Kosovan President Hashim Thaci, who watched the game from the Turku grounds, said the team "felt like winners." "You are the best. You will win. You are the new heroes of Kosovo," he said.
The buildup to the evening's game was wrought with confusion as FIFA kept the Kosovo team guessing about who would be allowed to represent the tiny country in its World Cup debut. Less than five hours before the 9:45 p.m. kickoff, FIFA finally approved six players who were already with the squad in Turku.
Head coach Albert Bunjaki could sigh with relief - he had a full team to choose from. Five of the six players, including goalkeeper Samir Ujkani, had formerly represented Albania, which borders Kosovo. The case of Berisha, who played for Norway before Kosovo gained FIFA and UEFA membership in May, was the last to be resolved.