Kosovo footballers draw with Haiti in Mitrovica debut

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Kosovo playersImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Kosovo does have players in Europe's big football leagues

Six years after declaring independence, Kosovo's footballers have played their first match at international level, drawing 0-0 with Haiti in a friendly.

The match, approved by football's world governing body Fifa, took place in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica.

Kosovo is not recognised by Serbia or Russia and is not a member of Fifa.

But Serbia's football association has agreed that Kosovo can play friendly internationals provided no flags are displayed and no anthems played.

The Caribbean state of Haiti, 79th in the Fifa rankings, may be a surprise choice of opposition for Kosovo's international debut, but the game fulfils a major ambition for the Balkan territory.

Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj tweeted as the match got under way: "The first friendly international game between #Kosovo and #Haiti has just started. Great day for Kosovo's sport."

Selecting the 22-man squad has been difficult. All but one of them plays football abroad.

Three of the country's best players now represent Switzerland, while Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj, whose heritage makes him eligible for Kosovo, declined an invitation to take part.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (holding shirt) met the players on the eve of the game

Fifteen years after Nato bombed Serbian positions in an attempt to halt the violent repression of ethnic Albanians, Kosovo does not have a seat at the UN but does have the recognition of more than 100 countries.

It has also secured the backing of Fifa president Sepp Blatter to take part in non-competitive matches, although Tuesday's game was not mentioned on the Fifa website.

The 17,000 tickets for the match at Mitrovica's renovated Adem Jashari stadium sold out within hours.

The town, divided between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs, has been a frequent flashpoint since the conflict ended in 1999.