FIFA clears Kosovo players to make World Cup debut vs Finland
Amid last-minute confusion about which players are eligible to play for Kosovo, football's newest national team will have almost a full squad to pick from in their World Cup qualifying debut on Monday.
FIFA said less than five hours before kickoff in Finland that it approved six players to represent Kosovo who were already with the squad to face Finland in Turku.
Five of the six players confirmed by FIFA, including goalkeeper Samir Ujkani, had formerly represented Albania, which borders Kosovo.
The case of midfielder Valon Berisha, who played for Norway before Kosovo gained FIFA and UEFA membership in May, was the last to be resolved before the 9:45 p.m. (1845 GMT) kickoff.
Confusion over paperwork threatened to mar Kosovo's first World Cup qualifying match, more than eight years after the former province of Serbia declared independence.
FIFA's players' status committee has been evaluating requests to switch allegiance of Kosovo-eligible players who had represented other countries at youth or senior level while their home country was not recognised in international football.
Kosovo's assistant coach, Tord Grip, said the confusion has been unsettling.
"Maybe it's both the Kosovo federation and FIFA that have messed this up. I don't know all the details," Grip, a former longtime assistant to Sven-Goran Eriksson, told Swedish radio on Monday.
Kosovo's entry into FIFA membership has tested the rules on switching allegiance.
Created to regulate typical cases in which players had nationality of two existing FIFA member federations, the rules have struggled to cope with a new national team like Kosovo.
FIFA had in recent months approved requests from nine Kosovo players who had represented six different European countries, including Albania, Germany and Switzerland.
Kosovo's qualifying group also includes Croatia, Iceland, Turkey and Ukraine.