By Die Morina
People celebrated in Kosovo as the national team drew against Finland, securing a point in a World Cup qualifier at the country’s first-ever competitive international football match.
Fans gathered in Pristina on Monday evening to watch the Kosovo team kick off its inaugural World Cup qualifying campaign with an important 1-1 away draw in Turku in Finland.
Kosovo’s scorer was Valon Berisha, who earned the point with a penalty kick just hours after football’s world governing body FIFA cleared him to play for the country.
His team-mates Amir Rrahmani, Alban Meha, Herolind Shala, Milot Rashica and Samir Ujkani were also only cleared to play by FIFA on the day of the match.
Berisha used to play for Norway and the other five had represented Albania, but asked to switch allegiance after Kosovo became a member of FIFA in May 2016.
Kosovo’s historic match against Finland was played at the same time as a World Cup qualifier between Albania and Macedonia, and two big screens were set up in Skenderbeu square in Pristina, so fans wearing the colours of both Kosovo and Albania could watch the two matches at the same time.
However there was also some debate among the onlookers as to whether footballers should still play for the Albanian national team or join their homeland side in their blue and yellow jerseys.
Hamdi Krasniqi, aged 45, who was watching the game in the square even though it was raining, told BIRN: “It would be better for players from Kosovo to play for Kosovo and those from Albania to play for Albania.”
But Vlora Nikci, an actress living in Pristina, told BIRN that she respected players who did not decide to switch allegiance and remained with the Albanian team.
“I like the fact that someone from Gjakova [in Kosovo] plays together with someone from Tirana [in Albania]. I love the symbolism of it – the unity,” she said.
Eighteen-year-old Donjeta Hoxha told BIRN that she went out to watch both matches.
“Kosovo’s team gives me a special emotion, maybe because it is the first time we as a new country have this chance [to compete internationally]. But I am sticking by both nation’s teams,” she said.
Bars in Pristina were also screening both matches on two screens and people celebrated by singing songs with lyrics like “Without Kosovo there will not be Albania” and “We are one”.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognised by more than 100 countries, but not by Belgrade.
In May, Kosovo became a member of FIFA despite strong opposition from Serbia, which opposes any international endorsement of its former province’s independence.
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