Kosovo play a first competitive international football match when they play a World Cup qualifier against Finland on Monday, 17 years after fighting against Belgrade’s rule and nearly nine since declaring independence from Serbia.

Just by earning the right to play and regardless of the outcome of the match and whether or not it qualifies for the 2018 tournament in Russia, the mostly Albanian former province has already triumphed.

While it remains locked out of the United Nations, it has broken through Serbia’s fierce opposition against Kosovo’s recognition and stepped into the arena of major European and global world of sports.

The majority Albanians, who make up 90 per cent of around 2 million inhabitants, launched an insurgency in 1998 for independence of the then Serbia’s southern province.

The rebellion escalated with Belgrade’s heavy-handed response which drew NATO to intervene and end bloodshed in 1999.

Serbia was ousted from Kosovo, which with the backing of the United States and big Western powers declared independence in 2008.

Even before that, Kosovo began creeping into international sport organizations: the table tennis world organization was the first to accept it, already in 2003, then wrestling, softball, archery, judo and others – but none of the heavyweights.

The tide came with the promotion of Kosovo to the International Olympic Committee in December 2014. After that, it joined the big organizations such as the world basketball federation and, finally, it was accepted by FIFA in May, opening the door to World Cup qualifications.

The unresolved diplomatic status, however, still casts a shadow. Even if Kosovo qualify, it is not certain that hosts Russia, Serbia’s superpower ally which has helped keep Kosovo out of the UN, will allow the team to take part as Moscow is backing Belgrade’s claim of sovereignty over Kosovo and has refused to recognize it.

Additionally, Kosovo is still not certain who will represent it in the future, as much of its potential talent has meanwhile played for other countries, such as Switzerland and, particularly, neighbouring Albania.

FIFA is reportedly still mulling request of individual players asking to switch from some country to Kosovo’s fledgling national team.

Kosovo state TV RTK said Friday that it was about seven players: Samir Ujkani, Amir Rrahmani, Alban Meha, Milot Rashica, Vedat Muriqi, Herolind Shala and Valon Berisha.

Already on Monday Finland’s midfielder Perparim Hetemaj, 29, decided not to play for his adopted country in the match against the country he was born in.

Hatemaj is one of several the top players who Kosovo is hoping to feature.

Meanwhile, it has secured Manchester City's 21-year old Sinan Bytyci, now on a one-year development loan to Go Ahead Eagles in the Nethgerlands. Bytyci already played for Austria's U-21 squad.

"I wish to thank the Austrian national team for the great years! From now on I'll play for my homeland Kosovo," he wrote on his Facebook page.

Related stories

Kosovo make their point on international football stage

Croatia, Kosovo face fines after anti-Serb chants

CAS to hear Serbia appeal over Kosovo in October

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.