Kosovo planning for bright future

17 Oct 2018
  • Captain Samir Ujkani discusses the national team

  • Kosovo reach highest-ever placing in FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking

  • "We want to be in the top 100 a few months from now"

Kosovo declared independence around ten-and-a-half years ago, but it was another eight years before the FIFA Congress welcomed the small European nation into the global footballing family.

Fast forward to autumn 2018, and Kosovo have themselves a number of ambitious targets and seem firmly on the path to success. Yes, they endured a difficult qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, amassing a single point (against Finland) in ten games, but that was to be expected, given their group rivals included eventual World Cup runners-up Croatia, Turkey, Iceland and Ukraine.

"You just have to remember that we really didn’t have anything to start with," Kosovo’s captain and most-capped player Samir Ujkani explained to FIFA.com. "Our association has done a magnificent job over the last few years. The stadium is now competitive and we have our own league. We can now develop our own playing style, and our players are becoming more experienced."

The Dardanians continue to climb the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, reaching an all-time high of 138th (up 3) in the September standings. They recently recorded their first-ever competitive victory by defeating Faroe Islands 2-0 in the UEFA Nations League, while their other recent results in the same competition include a 3-1 win over Malta, a goalless draw in Azerbaijan and a 1-1 stalemate away to Faroe Islands. Under the guidance of coach Bernard Challandes, who took over from Albert Bunjaku just over a year ago, Kosovo currently top Group D3 and are hoping for promotion to League C.

"We’ll be very happy with that, and I even think we can get into the top 100 [in the FIFA Ranking] a few months from now," Ujkani said. "That’s our main target. After that we’ll set some new goals.

"My job is mainly to keep spirits high, as we succeed when there’s a positive mood within the squad," the skipper continued. "Although that won’t always work out in the short term, we have to work as a team and get along well over the long term. Even when young players are sitting on the bench, I talk to them and try to create a positive atmosphere. We’re like a family. In two or three years, Kosovo will have progressed far enough to even win a qualifying group for a major tournament one day."

UEFA EURO 2020 is one dream that they are keen to turn into reality.

"In the early days our fans were impatient and thought that we’d win our World Cup qualifying group straight away," the goalkeeper for top-flight Turkish side Caykur Rizespor recalled, "but nobody could have expected that. This is a major learning curve for us – working out when to attack our opponents and when to sit back. Against Azerbaijan a few weeks ago we just cleared the ball for several minutes to withstand a period of pressure from the opposition. That was a valuable lesson for my team and I. We take fewer risks now and are increasingly getting the balance right between attack and defence.

"Our domestic league also helps us immensely with this," Ujkani added. "Players are growing into their roles and are being challenged at their clubs, and obviously that also benefits the national side."

With the world’s top 100 in their sights, the EUROs in the back of their minds, ambitious targets set and expectations raised, there is no doubt that Kosovo are a team on the up. When asked what teams he would love to take on one day, the 30-year-old captain replied: "Brazil or Argentina! We’ll definitely get a chance to play against European teams in qualifying for the EUROs, but a duel against Lionel Messi, Neymar and other world-class players would definitely be a huge highlight for our country."