HELSINKI: Valon Berisha, the last player out of 16 cleared by FIFA to switch countries and play for Kosovo, converted the penalty which brought his new national team a 1-1 draw with Finland on their World Cup debut.
Only in the hours leading up to kickoff did Kosovo federation officials learned that all the ‘cross-over’ applications submitted to the world federation had been approved in time for the game in Helsinki.
Paulus Arajuuri gave the Finnish hosts the lead after only 18 minutes but Kosovo held firm in defence after that and Berisha – formerly a Norwegian interrnational – earned their first point in international competition on the hour.
The Balkan state, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, became a UEFA and then FIFA member earlier this year in May. That triggered applications from Kosovars, who had played for other nations, to change teams.
The original applications were submitted for consideration by the bureau of the FIFA players status committee with a subsequent ruling by a single judge.
Bureaux members involved were Sunil Gulati (United States), Theo van Seggelen (Netherlands), Mr Johan van Gaalen (South Africa) and England’s Geoff Thompson – the latter being that single judge.
That allayed Kosovar fears of involvement in the process by any representative from an antagonistic federation such as, notably, Switzerland.
The 16 players allowed to change ‘football nationality’ were:
– Fanol Perdedaj (from Germany to Kosovo)
– Bersant Celina (from Norway to Kosovo)
– Hekuran Kryeziu (from Switzerland to Kosovo)
– Albert Bunjaku (from Switzerland to Kosovo)
– Enis Alushi (from Germany to Kosovo)
– Sinan Bytyçi (from Austria to Kosovo)
– Vedat Muriç (from Albania to Kosovo)
– Erton Fejzullahu (from Sweden to Kosovo)
– Elbasan Rashani (from Norway to Kosovo)
– Samir Ujkani (from Albania to Kosovo)
– Alban Meha (from Albania to Kosovo)
– Milot Rashica, (from Albania to Kosovo)
– Amir Rrahmani, (from Albania to Kosovo)
– Imran Bunjaku (from Albania to Kosovo)
– Herolind Shala (from Albania to Kosovo) and
– Valon Berisha (from Norway to Kosovo).
Kosovo’s complicated political status has seen several players born in the state play for different countries, including Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka (Switzerland), Shefki Kuqi (Finland) and Lorik Cana (Albania).
When Kosovo’s FIFA membership was secured, football’s governing body indicated it would deal with players wanting to switch nations on a case-by-case basis.
Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka had claimed that players who featured at Euro 2016 would not be allowed to switch nations. Xhaka played in all of Switzerland’s matches – including their opening game against Albania, for whom his older brother Taulant plays.
The Swiss football federation, angry at seeing their squad under threat, has complained about “a lack of clarity in regulations”.
An angry statement said: “The SFV regrets the priority of the Kosovar directors has been in trying to recruit players for the next World Cup qualifiers instead of consolidating the foundations of their federation.”
Switzerland had been one the nations most outspokenly opposed to Kosovo being granted membership of UEFA and FIFA.