Slovan Bratislava says two of its players and its coach, all Serbian nationals, will sit out a UEFA Europa League qualifying round match against Kosovo’s Feronikeli after Belgrade told the three not to take the pitch.
Aleksandar Cavric, Dejan Drazic and coach Vladimir Radenkovic have said they were notified by the Serbian government that they should not play in the July 24 match in the Slovak capital against the squad from Kosovo.
Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina have been strained since the 1999 NATO-led air war that led to Kosovo breaking away from Serbia and ultimately declaring independence, something Belgrade has refused to recognize.
“SK Slovak respects the decision by the players and coach, so they won’t play in both matches against Feronikeli,” Slovan said in a statement, referring to both qualifying matches the teams will play.
“We ask fans to respect this fact and understand the decisions of the players, coach, and club. This is not a pleasant situation for any of us, but we must respect it.”
Slovakia’s Sport24 published a statement from Cavric saying that while he was ready for the match, he would “respect any instructions coming from the Serbian government.”
Fearing reprisals from fans, Slovan officials have warned those attending the match to "refrain from any demonstrations on the political situation of the rival team."
Kosovo, which is mainly ethnic Albanian, has been recognized as an independent nation by more than 110 countries, but Belgrade has long attempted to isolate its former province in international affairs.
The animosity has also spilled over several times in sports arenas.
Most recently, two Serbian-born players and the Serbian-born coach of Montenegro’s national team refused to play on June 7 in a 2020 European Championship qualifying match against Kosovo.
The coach, Ljubisa Tumbakovic, was later sacked by Montenegro’s football association for his actions.
Two Serbian Players, Coach Heed Warning From Belgrade, Won't Play Against Kosovar Soccer Club