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FIFA Allows Kosovo To Play Friendly Matches

A Croatian supporter holds a ball saying, "Accept Kosovo in UEFA" in Poznan, Poland, during the European soccer finals in 2012.
A Croatian supporter holds a ball saying, "Accept Kosovo in UEFA" in Poznan, Poland, during the European soccer finals in 2012.
World soccer's governing body has announced that Kosovo will be allowed to play friendly matches against FIFA member states at the club and international levels.

FIFA said in an announcement on its website on January 14 that some restrictions apply, such as a prohibition against Kosovo playing matches against clubs and teams from countries of the former Yugoslavia and a requirement that Kosovar teams cannot display national symbols or play national anthems at games.

Kosovar teams must also give 21 days' advance notice of scheduled home matches, after which FIFA will inform Serbia's soccer federation.

Kosovar teams will be allowed to wear uniforms bearing the name "Kosovo" and a star symbol.

Serbia has tried to block Kosovo's membership of many international organizations, including soccer associations.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 in a move that enraged Belgrade and its ally, Russia.

Serbia has sought to fight Kosovo sovereignty through the courts, and has consistently opposed separate Kosovar representation with international organizations including FIFA.

UEFA head Michel Platini said during a visit to Serbia in 2008 that Kosovo would not be granted membership in that body, which unites more than 50 national associations in Europe and Asia.

Infrastructure Still Lacking

FC Prishtina's Afrim Toverlani, named coach of the year for 2013 by the Kosovo soccer federation, welcomed the decision and said that this was the last moment to end discrimination against the Kosovars and to enable them to play friendly matches against other teams.

"This is a great achievement, but this is not enough, until we become equal members of FIFA," Toverlani said.

"Of course, it is good that we will be able to play games regardless of the footnote. The most important thing is that the barriers are eliminated and that we will play friendly matches," he added.

Toverlani said that Kosovo will play their first friendly match in March and that, even though Kosovo is ready for it, the biggest problem will be poor infrastructure that doesn't meet the necessary requirements.

"The soccer federation, Ministry of Sport, the government, and the municipalities should act rapidly and fix the stadiums as soon as possible in order to improve the situation," he said.

Agim Ademi, vice president of Kosovo's federation, told RFE/RL that the first match was expected to be played on March 5.

"Regarding the potential of our footballers, we are realistically ready for such matches. Many experts gave us high assessments, considering that many football players from Kosovo play on international teams, but certainly there are other footballers from Kosovo," Ademi said.

"Regarding the infrastructure, we will try to convince government bodies before March 3 to prepare the stadium for the future matches."

Some of the famous Kosovo footballers playing abroad that will be able to play for Kosovo team in the future are: Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Valon Behrami (Napoli), and Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach).

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci thanked FIFA President Sepp Blatter for his help in this, as he put it, first, but important step in the internationalization of Kosovo soccer.

"I am convinced that in the near future Kosovo Football Federation will become an equal member of UEFA and FIFA and that these agreed modalities will become invalid. Institutions of the Republic of Kosovo will provide their assistance for all the aspects of the development of football and sports in general," he wrote on his Facebook page.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

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