Kosovo reach new high in FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
Highest climber in March
Currently on a three-match winning streak
Almost two years ago, on 13 May 2016, the FIFA Congress welcomed Kosovo as the 210th member of its footballing family. The news was greeted with joy in a country that was only founded in 2008.
Kosovo were soon contesting their first competitive fixtures, celebrating their first goals and marking many other milestones. The entire nation celebrated when the team secured a 1-1 draw in Finland, with President Hashim Thaci enthusiastically declaring: “Kosovo have scored their first goal! Generations of players are so proud after decades of isolation. The best is yet to come for our country!” Prime Minister Isa Mustafa highlighted the significance of the match by adding: “We have proven ourselves to be worthy opponents in international competition.”
Two years later, the population of this south-eastern European country are still proud of what their footballers have achieved so far, despite recording only a solitary draw in ten matches and finishing at the bottom of Group I in qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, scoring three goals and conceding 24 in the process.
Nevertheless, hopes and expectations for Kosovo are rising – so much so that the country’s poor qualifying results forced Albert Bunjaki to leave his post as national team coach last October after eight years on the touchline.
Kosovo facts and figures
International record: 27 matches (9 wins, 3 draws, 15 defeats; 34 goals scored, 48 conceded)
Most-capped player / captain: Samir Ujkani (18 caps)
Top goalscorer: Albert Bunjaku, Elba Rashani (3 goals)
Swiss coach Bernard Challandes was named as Bunjaki’s successor just a few weeks ago, beginning his reign with 1-0 and 2-0 victories over Madagascar and Burkina Faso respectively.
"It was certainly an ideal start for me and a great success for the team after our training camp together,” said Challandes in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "We have plenty of good footballers who play across Europe and have lots of experience. Now we need to learn to operate as a unit. To achieve success you need to find harmony as well as having good players. We need to defend together and attack together. I watched all of the team’s World Cup qualifiers, and what I saw was not a real team. Everyone tried their best but they didn’t work together, and that’s what we have to work on."
Kosovo’s 4-3 win over Latvia last November means the team has won their last three matches after a run of nine straight defeats.
This brief winning streak has had a major impact on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, lifting Kosovo to their best-ever placing of 152nd and making them the highest climbers in the March rankings.
"While the potential is undoubtedly there, we still have plenty to do,” said Challandes. “The league needs to be supported and expanded, and many structures are not yet available or are only just being put in place. All of this takes time."
The national stadium in Mitrovica is currently being renovated and will become the team’s home ground in the future. With a capacity of almost 29,000, the stadium has been sold out for every international match so far.
"I’m now travelling to Kosovo and am keen to watch several matches,” the national team coach explained. “We have a team with an average age of around 22 or 23, which means they can achieve something and develop well in the future. There is also plenty of promise in our youth ranks, with the U-21s holding Germany to a goalless draw and the U-19s making good progress in European qualification. That shows the amount of talent at our disposal."
Kosovo will face similarly-ranked teams for the first time when the UEFA Nations League gets underway in September, in a group that also includes Azerbaijan, Malta and the Faroe Islands. "There’s no need for us to shy away from the challenge, and we can always dream,” said Challandes, before sounding a note of caution. “Although it would obviously be great for us to reach a World Cup or European Championships eventually, we have a long road ahead of us. You never get much time in football, and yet that’s exactly what we need."
"While expectations are high across the country, we need to be patient,” the 66-year-old continued. “Kosovo loves and lives for football, and you can feel the people’s pride wherever you go. Everyone watches the team and follows their results. The potential is there. We want to use that quality, composure and passion to make progress, but it won’t happen overnight."
Kosovo's upcoming matches Albania - Kosovo (29 May) Azerbaijan - Kosovo (7 September) Kosovo - Faroe Islands (10 September)