LINUS LINDAHL / AIPS* in DUBAI: Gentrit Citaku and Valmir Berisha have helped bring Sweden to a surprising semi-final spot at the U-17 FIFA World Cup UAE 2013. Yet one day they may choose to play World Cup football for with Albania or for a state which has yet to join FIFA.
Five years ago the former Yugoslavian region of Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. Since then the war-ravaged state has tried, while awaiting membership, to create a national football team which would, at least, be allowed to play friendlies against other national teams. Discussions involving Serbia and FIFA remain ongoing because Kosovo has yet to be accepted as a member of the United Nations.
Berisha was born in Kosovo on June 6, 1996 – coincidentally Sweden’s national day – and moved north with his family to Sweden two years later; Citaku has relatives from the region and visits Kosovo every summer.
Berisha says: “We can choose both Albania and Kosovo but Kosovo is not accepted yet (by FIFA) so probably it may not be a question until it changes. If I go back to my grandfathers grandfathers we are from Albania,”
Last year Berisha was invited to play for the Albanian national youth team but rejected it after receiving an opportunity with Sweden.
Citaku also has an Albanian family background. He says: ”They emigrated to Kosovo. That is where we have a house and go sometimes.”
Berisha plays for Swedish club Halmstad’s under-19s. Anel Raskaj, formerly with Halmstad and now in Norway with Sandnes, decided to represent the Kosovo national team despite the circumstances. Raskaj also thought he would have a better chance to play for them than for the Swedish national team.
“He chose Kosovo even though they had not been accepted by FIFA,” says Berisha. “I do not know why he did that but he is proud of his country, I guess.”
Berisha and Citaku could yet play senior competitive football for Kosovo or Albania because players are not bound by their representative status at youth level.
Last week FIFA president Sepp Blatter maintained the dialogue with the presidents of the Serbian and Kosovar football associations in Zurich.
When Switzerland met Albania in a World Cup qualification match last year nine of the Swiss players were born or had other connections to Kosovo. One of them, Xherdan Shaqiri made a clear statement with the flags of Kosovo, Albania and Switzerland on his boots to show his roots.
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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