BERN: The Kosovo issue has been thrust back into the European football spotlight after Russia refused St Gallen a visa for midfielder Kristian Nushi ahead of tomorrow’s Europa League playoff second leg against Moscow Spartak.

St Gallen and Spartak drew 1-1 in the first leg.

Russia does not recognise Kosovo which declared independence in 2008 after breaking away from Serbia.

Both countries have blocked attempts by the Kosovo federation to reach an accommodation with UEFA over permission for friendly matches at club and national team level.

Hence St Gallen’s party headed for Moscow without the 31-year-old who moved to Switzerland 14 years ago and has played in the country ever since.

The issue raises issues about Russia’s willingness to observe the terms of the ‘free-entry’ guarantees given to FIFA over the organisation of the 2018 World Cup.

FIFA agreed in principle in May 2012 to allow its member associations to play friendlies against teams from Kosovo but then put the decision on hold following a protest from the Serbian FA.

Mixed meanings

In December, it agreed – in the teeth of UEFA irritation – that teams from FIFA member associations could play Kosovo teams at “youth, amateur, women’s and club football” level but made no mention of full internationals.

In such circumstances it was no surprise that the European federation had little sympathy for St Gallen and Nushi, saying: “UEFA is aware that difficulties may occur in the visa process . . . It is the responsibility of the clubs to apply for visas, but UEFA is supporting the clubs and the national associations where possible to encourage their timely delivery.

“However, ultimately it is the decision of the respective embassies to grant visas.”

Nushi, born on July 21, 1982 in Klina, began his career with KF Pristina and moved to Switzerland in 1999 when he played for three years with lower division FC Spiez.

His career proceeded via spells with FC Wil (with whom he won the Swiss cup) and Aarau before he joined St Gallen in 2009.

Nushi, like a number of self-exile Kosovars, has played twice for Albania. He has also made five appearances for a Kosovo national team since scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in June 2007.