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News 18 Aug 17

UEFA Boss Vows to Boost Kosovo Football Infrastructure

The head of the European football governing body, UEFA, Aleksandar Ceferin, pledged to help Kosovo improve its poor football infrastructure on his first visit since his election last month.

Perparim Isufi
BIRN
Pristina
UEFA’s new president, Aleksandar Ceferin on his visit to Kosovo.

With its stadiums not meeting UEFA requirements, Kosovo’s national team embarrassingly has been forced to play World Cup Qualification host matches in neighbouring Albania.

However, on his first visit to Kosovo since his September election as UEFA’s new president, Aleksandar Ceferin on Thursday offered a helping hand while observing the renovation works at Pristina City Stadium.

Officials from the Kosovo Football Federation, FFK, told BIRN that the arena will not be ready until April 2018. “We expect it to be ready for football matches by next April. Some works still need to be done,” Eroll Salihu, the FFK Secretary General, said.

In his opinion, the political stalemate that has halted work in Kosovo institutions since the June 11 parliamentary snap elections has caused extra delays to the works.

“Some additional funds need to be allocated by the government – but they cannot be done without a new government in place,” he observed.

Kosovo’s national team started the international qualifications campaign in Finland, with a draw against Finland in September 2016.

Since then, Kosovo has lost all five matches in a row.

But Ceferin, who referred to FFK President Fadil Vokrri as a “great friend”, lauded Kosovo’s passion for the sport and said UEFA would help out.

“I am sure you have a bright football future … and of course UEFA will help you as much as it can, mainly in infrastructure, because the infrastructure in Kosovo is not good enough at this moment,” the 49-year-old Slovenian lawyer-turned-football administrator said.

At a press conference in Pristina, he downplayed the possibility of starting a regional football league, citing both sporting and political reasons.

“At this moment, I am sure that the security or political situation is not in a position to organize a league like that,” he said.

“The second problem I see with the regional league, we have seen it with basketball, is that the basic is always the national league. If you make a regional league and take the best clubs out, you have a problem because you weaken the national leagues and can ruin football in each country,” Ceferin added.

During his short trip to Pristina, Ceferin was also received by the Prime Minister, Isa Mustafa. In a press release issued after the meeting Mustafa was quoted as saying that the government intended to “prioritize investments in football infrastructure”.

Ceperin tried to counter Kosovars’ pessimism about the lack of football infrastructure, recalling the humble start of the Slovenian national team after independence from Yugoslavia.

“When I remember Slovenia in 1991, we also didn’t have infrastructure and I told Fadil [Vokrri] today that in 1991 we had one office of 21 square meters – and you have almost a building,” Ceperin said.

In May 2016, UEFA’s annual congress voted to accept the Football Federation of Kosovo’s application for membership, paving the way for teams from the country to enter European club competitions.

The UEFA decision was made despite strong opposition from Serbia, which opposes any recognition of its former province’s statehood.

Until then, Kosovo teams were unable to compete internationally, although two years before, FIFA agreed to allow the national team to play so-called friendlies with other countries under special conditions.

In July this year, Trepça 89, a team from the northern town of Mitrovica, was the first Kosovo team to try its chances for the Champions League qualifications.

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