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Category: Kosovo

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Iceland become smallest nation ever to qualify for World Cup finals

• Win over Kosovo secures place at World Cup 2018 in Russia
• Serbia seal qualification, Croatia confirm play-off place

Iceland sealed a place in Russia with a 2-0 victory against Kosovo in Reykjavik, becoming the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup finals.

Heimir Hallgrimsson’s team knew a win against Group I’s bottom side would guarantee top spot and an automatic qualifying place, and Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson settled their nerves with a superbly taken goal five minutes before half-time.

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International football: 10 things to look out for in World Cup 2018 qualifying

Gareth Southgate should have taken radical action over England captaincy, Hal Robson-Kanu may be needed by Wales and how long can Didier Deschamps do without Karim Benzema?

Captaincy is among the biggest red herrings in football: all players are supposed to set examples with their performances and leaders lead with or without an armband. And yet the England captaincy matters simply because a lot of people think it matters. Steven Gerrard was upset when it was taken off him by a caretaker manager, Stuart Pearce, and David Beckham was uplifted when it was given to him by a caretaker manager, Peter Taylor. The country’s latest caretaker manager, Gareth Southgate, should have de-fetishised the armband by announcing England do not need a captain other than for administrative purposes – to do the coin toss, basically – and, therefore, that the identity of the skipper for the matches against Malta, Slovenia and all opponents during his reign would be decided two seconds before each match by a dressing-room raffle. Paul Doyle

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Valon Berisha earns draw with Finland in Kosovo’s first competitive match

• Berisha was cleared to play hours before World Cup qualifier
• Victories for Spain and Italy as Croatia draw with Turkey

Valon Berisha, given permission to play only a few hours before kick-off, scored Kosovo’s first goal in a competitive international to earn them a 1-1 draw against Finland a World Cup qualifier on Monday.

Berisha, who was allowed to switch to Kosovo by Fifa despite having previously played competitive matches for Norway, scored a penalty on the hour after a foul by Thomas Lam on Bernard Berisha to spark delirious celebrations among his team mates and officials.

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Kosovo get Fifa clearance for players in Finland World Cup qualifier

• Five footballers who previously lined up for Albania will be in team
• Team celebrate news before first campaign in global competition

Kosovo’s first-ever World Cup qualifying campaign has been given a lift by the news that five key players have been ruled eligible to face Finland on Monday evening by Fifa.

Related: Kosovo ready to rock the boat in Finland despite eligibility confusion

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Kosovo ready to rock the boat in Finland despite eligibility confusion

The buildup to Kosovo’s first 2018 World Cup qualifier has been marred by a lack of clarity from Fifa about which players are allowed to play for them

Taking to the lake is a natural enough pursuit in Finland so it made perfect sense for Albert Bunjaki, the Kosovo manager, to organise a rowing trip for his players in the waters beside their base in Eerikkila. It was not quite the relaxing Saturday-afternoon activity some may have envisaged; the squad were put into two boats and the chagrin when Bunjaki ordered three in each vessel to put down their oars is not hard to picture. The six redundant players would have to content themselves with offering moral support; everyone else would just have to work that little bit harder.

The exercise had been carefully calculated. Kosovo’s first World Cup qualifier takes place in Turku on Monday evening and Bunjaki is still awaiting confirmation from Fifa that half a dozen of his best players will be eligible. That was hindrance enough on Saturday; imagine, then, the inconvenience when Kosovo were informed the final decision would not be given until 3pm on matchday, fewer than seven hours before kick-off.

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Ten rising stars to watch across Europe’s World Cup qualifying campaign | Alan Smith

From Italy’s 17-year-old keeper to Poland’s Premier League winger we choose the most exciting youngsters to watch out for in the forthcoming games

Elevated into Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid team during the opening two weeks of the La Liga season, the attacking midfielder was included in Julen Lopetegui’s first squad for a friendly with Belgium and Monday’s visit of Liechtenstein, though he did not make it off the bench for the win in Brussels on Thursday. Capable of operating centrally and out wide, the 20-year‑old will need to bide his time for opportunities but such has been his rapid rise it would not be a massive surprise if he became a regular later in the campaign. In the meantime it would be good to see him get some game time in noncompetitive fixtures. His only cap so far came against Bosnia‑Herzegovina at the end of last season.

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Kosovan Olympic judo gold medallist refused drugs test before Games

• Majlinda Kelmendi could face ban in France where incident took place in June
• Kosovan team insists the new women’s 52kg champion is clean

The Kosovan gold medallist judoka, Majlinda Kelmendi, could face a ban on competition in France after refusing an unscheduled drugs test, the International Judo Federation (IJF) has confirmed.

Kelmendi, 25, became the first Kosovan to win Olympic gold when she triumphed in the -52kg category in the Carioca arena on Sunday. But her victory could be tarnished amid claims that she had committed an anti-doping violation in France in June during her preparations for Rio.

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The Xhaka brothers braced to lock horns – for Albania and Switzerland | Nick Ames

Granit and Taulant have taken different paths after their parents migrated to Switzerland but when they come face to face in Lens at Euro 2016 on Saturday they will be united by pride if not by shirt colour

It was approaching half-time in Albania’s decisive Euro 2016 qualifer against Armenia and the Eagles, needing a win to confirm their debut at a major tournament, were comfortably ahead. The online clamour among the worldwide Albanian diaspora was deafening but one intervention on Instagram stood out from the rest: “2-0 Albania” were the words appended to a photograph showing a man in his early 20s, fist clenched and more than a suggestion of tears in his eyes. Granit Xhaka was the subject and just over an hour later Albania, with his brother Taulant anchoring the midfield, would confirm a 3-0 win and their place in France.

Nothing about the post would seem unusual were it not for the fact that Granit was watching from Estonia where, the following day, he would help Switzerland round off their own campaign. A day shy of eight months later, the pair face a scenario neither could have seriously expected when cheering one another on in the qualifiers. Albania and Switzerland face one another in Lens on Saturday and, while that is not unusual in itself, the prospect of two brothers facing one another on separate sides – in the midfield engine room, no less – is unprecedented at a European Championship. (The Boatengs, Germany’s Jérôme and Ghana’s Kevin-Prince, have twice faced each other in World Cups, though they are only half-brothers.)

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Kosovo’s Champions League dream emerged from war and tragedy

• Feronikeli set to be first club from region to play on Europe’s biggest stage
• Kosovan champions’ former captain was shot 20 times by Serbian police

Fidan Rexhepi adored his uncle. During the week, he would borrow Rexhep’s boots to play football outside the family home in Koretice, hoping they might in some way transmit the hypnotic dribbling ability and sweet left foot whose reputation had spread far into the valleys and villages of Drenica. At the weekend he would see how it was done as Rexhep – Rexha to everybody – wore the captain’s armband and No11 shirt of Feronikeli, motivating his team-mates in action and word. One afternoon, Fidan was present to see Rexha carried aloft by the crowd, his name ringing in his ears, after inspiring a 3-2 comeback win. Football was often a dangerous pursuit in 90s’ Kosovo and the celebrations were, as always, laced with a hint of defiance.

The memories flow freely as Fidan, now 28, drinks coffee at the family’s cafe along the main road into Drenas. A couple of minutes’ drive to the east is the pitch where he would stand in thrall to Rexha’s gifts. That is significant enough almost two decades later, but there is something else, too. Rexhep Rexhepi Stadium can call itself home to Kosovo’s first Champions League club after Feronikeli’s runaway title win was confirmed this month and also stands as a monument to the man in whose image the club was rebuilt.

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Kosovo accepted as member of Uefa after Congress vote

• Members vote 28-24 in favour of admittance
• Kosovo now likely to apply for Fifa membership

Kosovo was accepted as a member of Uefa on Tuesday, becoming the 55th member of European football’s governing body despite strong opposition from neighbouring Serbia, from which it declared independence in 2008.

Uefa’s annual Congress voted by 28 votes to 24 to accept Kosovo’s application. Two votes were declared invalid.

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Manchester City’s Bersant Celina ‘demanded’ place in Norway starting XI

• Teenager chose to represent Kosovo instead of Norway after talks
• Norwegian FA claim Celina wanted assurances over playing time

The Manchester City teenager Bersant Celina committed his international future to Kosovo after Norway were not prepared to guarantee him first-team football, according to the Norwegian FA.

Celina, 19, who made his Premier League debut against Leicester City on Saturday, last month pledged his future to Kosovo, where he was born, over Norway, where he moved with his family at the age of two.

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Kosovo to compete at Rio 2016 Olympics after recognition from IOC

• IOC ratifies provisional recognition granted in October
• Kosovo the 205th national Olympic committee recognised
Kosovo athlete barred from competing at London 2012

The International Olympic Committee has granted full recognition to Kosovo, meaning the Balkan country can send an independent team to the 2016 Games in Rio.

The IOC made the decision Tuesday, formally ratifying the provisional recognition granted in October by the executive board.

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Kosovo given go-ahead by IOC to take part in 2016 Olympics

Kosovo can send independent team to Rio in 2106 Serbia opposed IOCs move to recognise Kosovo Continue reading…

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Football takes back seat for Albanias politically charged Serbia clash

The issue of Kosovo looms large as Albania prepare for a first trip to Belgrade since 1967 with both sides putting their contrasting Euro 2016 qualification campaigns on hold Portugal slump to home defeat by Albania Continue reading…

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Owen Gibson on Kosovo’s debut

Fledgling nation’s first ever friendly marks the end of a tortuous road but flags and national anthems are strictly forbidden

There will be no anthems booming out and no national flags fluttering when Kosovo take on Haiti in the mining town of Mitrovica on Wednesday night. But for the capacity crowd of 17,000 fans who snapped up tickets for the match in four hours, Kosovo’s first ever Fifa-sanctioned friendly will be a highly charged, intensely patriotic experience.

Fifteen years since Nato entered the battle-scarred region to fight against Serbian ethnic cleansing and more than six since Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence the country will play its first official international.

Among those watching from the stands will be the Kosovan FA’s general secretary, Eroll Salihu, who has campaigned intensively for six years for his country to be accepted into football’s fold. Alongside him will be the federation’s president, Fadil Vokrri, recognised as their greatest player and the only Kosovan to represent the former Yugoslavia.

Although Kosovo is recognised by 23 of the 28 countries in the EU, is a member of the World Bank and has been accepted by other international sports federations including rowing and judo, the road to recognition in football has been more tortuous.

Serbia still vehemently opposes any suggestion that Kosovo should be officially recognised by Fifa, backed by Russia. Uefa’s president, Michel Platini – who was also (unsuccessfully) battling a bid by Gibraltar to become the 54th member of the confederation – also opposed the idea.

Yet in January Fifa, whose president, Sepp Blatter, has been generally supportive of Kosovo’s position, announced it would allow the country to play non-competitive friendlies against other international sides.

There are various strings attached – no anthems, no national symbols, no flags, no matches against other former Yugoslav nations – but for those who have cajoled and lobbied for more than a decade, it was a significant victory.

Jérôme Champagne, the former senior Fifa executive who has recently acted as an adviser to the Kosovan FA, said the decision was a victory for justice. “It’s justice for Kosovan football. It’s about reconciliation. This match is about football over political decisions,” said Champagne, who was ousted from Fifa in 2009 and recently announced that he planned to stand as a presidential candidate next April.

The former French diplomat, who is in Mitrovica for the match, said it was important to recognise that the Kosovan football federation, founded in 1947, included members of Serbian descent and many other minorities. “Football should be an agent for reconciliation in the Balkans,” he said.

The ongoing tensions are reflected in the fact that Mitrovica, one of the few Kosovan cities that has a significant Serbian population, retains a Nato peacekeeping force of 5,000 and sees periodic outbreaks of violence.

Even the stadium, which could have sold out three times over and is situated on the south side of the river within sight of Serbian homes in the north, is named after a revered Kosovo Albanian guerrilla fighter.

If Wednesday’s match does mark the first step along the road to full recognition, a whole new set of eligibility issues will come into play. In recent years Kosovo has produced a long list of impressive players who have gone on to play for Switzerland, Albania and others after their parents left their homeland. An entirely new country being granted admission to Fifa is relatively uncharted territory and it remains unclear, though unlikely, whether they would be allowed to switch their allegiance.

Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri, Napoli’s Valon Behrami and Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Granit Xhaka will all star for Switzerland in Brazil this summer and all three signed a petition calling for Kosovo to be admitted to Fifa in 2012. Kosovo’s coach, Albert Bunjaki,, who has organised just four matches in his five years in charge, said the players had not been approached for the Haiti friendly so as not to put them in a difficult position, despite assurances that playing for the fledgling nation at this stage would not impact on their eligibility.

Switzerland are due to play a friendly against Croatia in St Gallen on Wednesday night. In 2012 a Swiss tabloid screamed: “We fear the Kosovans” amid concerns their side would be decimated by defections.

Shaqiri cavorted on the Wembley turf with both the Swiss and Kosovan flags after winning the Champions League with Bayern in May and, when Switzerland and Albania played one another in 2012, he had the flags of all three countries stitched into his boots. Many of Albania’s players also hail from Kosovo, among them the captain, Lazio’s Lorik Cana.

Manchester United’s wunderkind Adnan Januzaj – at the centre of an international tug of love between Belgium, England, Albania and Kosovo – was asked to play but turned down the offer while he continues to consider his options.

“Kosovo will always keep its doors open for them,” said Bunjaki after a training session on Monday. “This is a journey, and we expect others to join us in the future.”

But another Manchester-based player will be playing. Bersant Celina, a 17-year-old Manchester City forward who was raised in Norway, said it was “fantastic” to be part of the Kosovan team. “It couldn’t be better than this. I hope to get some playing time so I can show how good I am.”If Kosovo are to become fully integrated into international football, inconsistencies between Fifa’s rules and those of Uefa will need to be reconciled. Fifa’s say only that a member nation must be “recognised by the international community” while Uefa’s require it to be a member of the United Nations, an unlikely prospect while Russia continues to support Serbia’s position.

Yet Platini, hitherto implacably opposed, is understood to have met with Vokrri in Albania recently. And those who have campaigned for so long to become part of the international footballing fraternity are convinced they are winning the argument.

“We want to send a signal to Uefa and Fifa that we have a right to be part of the football family,” Bunjaki recently told the New York Times. “This game will be when Kosovo start on their road to the World Cup after over 25 years of isolation.”

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



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Owen Gibson on Kosovo’s debut

Fledgling nation’s first ever friendly marks the end of a tortuous road but flags and national anthems are strictly forbidden

There will be no anthems booming out and no national flags fluttering when Kosovo take on Haiti in the mining town of Mitrovica on Wednesday night. But for the capacity crowd of 17,000 fans who snapped up tickets for the match in four hours, Kosovo’s first ever Fifa-sanctioned friendly will be a highly charged, intensely patriotic experience.

Fifteen years since Nato entered the battle-scarred region to fight against Serbian ethnic cleansing and more than six since Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence the country will play its first official international.

Among those watching from the stands will be the Kosovan FA’s general secretary, Eroll Salihu, who has campaigned intensively for six years for his country to be accepted into football’s fold. Alongside him will be the federation’s president, Fadil Vokrri, recognised as their greatest player and the only Kosovan to represent the former Yugoslavia.

Although Kosovo is recognised by 23 of the 28 countries in the EU, is a member of the World Bank and has been accepted by other international sports federations including rowing and judo, the road to recognition in football has been more tortuous.

Serbia still vehemently opposes any suggestion that Kosovo should be officially recognised by Fifa, backed by Russia. Uefa’s president, Michel Platini – who was also (unsuccessfully) battling a bid by Gibraltar to become the 54th member of the confederation – also opposed the idea.

Yet in January Fifa, whose president, Sepp Blatter, has been generally supportive of Kosovo’s position, announced it would allow the country to play non-competitive friendlies against other international sides.

There are various strings attached – no anthems, no national symbols, no flags, no matches against other former Yugoslav nations – but for those who have cajoled and lobbied for more than a decade, it was a significant victory.

Jérôme Champagne, the former senior Fifa executive who has recently acted as an adviser to the Kosovan FA, said the decision was a victory for justice. “It’s justice for Kosovan football. It’s about reconciliation. This match is about football over political decisions,” said Champagne, who was ousted from Fifa in 2009 and recently announced that he planned to stand as a presidential candidate next April.

The former French diplomat, who is in Mitrovica for the match, said it was important to recognise that the Kosovan football federation, founded in 1947, included members of Serbian descent and many other minorities. “Football should be an agent for reconciliation in the Balkans,” he said.

The ongoing tensions are reflected in the fact that Mitrovica, one of the few Kosovan cities that has a significant Serbian population, retains a Nato peacekeeping force of 5,000 and sees periodic outbreaks of violence.

Even the stadium, which could have sold out three times over and is situated on the south side of the river within sight of Serbian homes in the north, is named after a revered Kosovo Albanian guerrilla fighter.

If Wednesday’s match does mark the first step along the road to full recognition, a whole new set of eligibility issues will come into play. In recent years Kosovo has produced a long list of impressive players who have gone on to play for Switzerland, Albania and others after their parents left their homeland. An entirely new country being granted admission to Fifa is relatively uncharted territory and it remains unclear, though unlikely, whether they would be allowed to switch their allegiance.

Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri, Napoli’s Valon Behrami and Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Granit Xhaka will all star for Switzerland in Brazil this summer and all three signed a petition calling for Kosovo to be admitted to Fifa in 2012. Kosovo’s coach, Albert Bunjaki,, who has organised just four matches in his five years in charge, said the players had not been approached for the Haiti friendly so as not to put them in a difficult position, despite assurances that playing for the fledgling nation at this stage would not impact on their eligibility.

Switzerland are due to play a friendly against Croatia in St Gallen on Wednesday night. In 2012 a Swiss tabloid screamed: “We fear the Kosovans” amid concerns their side would be decimated by defections.

Shaqiri cavorted on the Wembley turf with both the Swiss and Kosovan flags after winning the Champions League with Bayern in May and, when Switzerland and Albania played one another in 2012, he had the flags of all three countries stitched into his boots. Many of Albania’s players also hail from Kosovo, among them the captain, Lazio’s Lorik Cana.

Manchester United’s wunderkind Adnan Januzaj – at the centre of an international tug of love between Belgium, England, Albania and Kosovo – was asked to play but turned down the offer while he continues to consider his options.

“Kosovo will always keep its doors open for them,” said Bunjaki after a training session on Monday. “This is a journey, and we expect others to join us in the future.”

But another Manchester-based player will be playing. Bersant Celina, a 17-year-old Manchester City forward who was raised in Norway, said it was “fantastic” to be part of the Kosovan team. “It couldn’t be better than this. I hope to get some playing time so I can show how good I am.”If Kosovo are to become fully integrated into international football, inconsistencies between Fifa’s rules and those of Uefa will need to be reconciled. Fifa’s say only that a member nation must be “recognised by the international community” while Uefa’s require it to be a member of the United Nations, an unlikely prospect while Russia continues to support Serbia’s position.

Yet Platini, hitherto implacably opposed, is understood to have met with Vokrri in Albania recently. And those who have campaigned for so long to become part of the international footballing fraternity are convinced they are winning the argument.

“We want to send a signal to Uefa and Fifa that we have a right to be part of the football family,” Bunjaki recently told the New York Times. “This game will be when Kosovo start on their road to the World Cup after over 25 years of isolation.”

theguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds



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Swiss magazine censured for ‘distortion’

Switzerland’s press council has upheld a complaint against a magazine that used a cover picture of a Roma boy waving a gun with the headline “The Roma are coming: raids in Switzerland.”The council censured the Zurich weekly Weltwoche for “distortion” a…