"A dark period" in the women's game between 1990 and 2002 in Kosovo
* * Founding of the women's league an important milestone
- * * First matches played as a FIFA member
While women's football has a long-standing history in many countries, the sport is still in its infancy in Kosovo. Even though FFC Prishtina was founded in the 1980s, it was not until much later – April 2011 – that a national team was established.
"At the time we had the chance to hold a camp outside of Kosovo, and we went to Albania," national team coach Aferdita Fazlija said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "There we played a friendly against FFC Kinostudio Tirana. From 2011 until 2015, the national team had meetings and camps in Albania, and took the opportunity to play friendlies with local clubs. In February 2016 we had the chance to play a friendly against the Albanian national team and we won 3-1."
However, the path up to that point was an arduous one. Fazlija, who played for FFC Prishtina between 1984 and 1990, recalls turbulent times and huge challenges. "In 1990 there was a lot of political tension and from that year until the end of the war in 2002, there was a dark period in women’s football," the 46-year-old explained. "As in a lot of other developing countries, the challenges that women face in many aspects of life are similar. Gender discrimination was obvious. There was a lack of financial support and a lack of professional support for coaches to develop."
That there has been an upturn in the women's game is partly down to Fazlija. Between 2005 and 2010 not only did she obtain a masters degree but also simultaneously completed her UEFA A and B licences. "During this time I managed to 'reactivate' FFC Prishtina and was able to help establish the Women’s Football League of Kosovo in 2010. A year later I was chosen to become the manager of the Kosovo women's national team."
*Together they have already written their names in the history books – and will continue to do so. In March, Kosovo took part at the Goldcity Women's Cup in Turkey, the country's first games since becoming a FIFA member at the 66th FIFA Congress in Mexico City on 13 May 2016. Despite losses to Poland (5-0), Romania (3-0) and Turkey (4-2) at the competition, Fazlija is proud of what they have achieved thus far.
"Participating in this tournament was historic for women’s football," she said. "We were honoured to have the privilege of being invited and to participate at such a magnificent event. It was important because it took place just before the preliminary games, which will be played at the beginning of April. It was a good experience because it was the first time we had the chance to play international matches."
Those preliminary games in European qualifying for the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019™ will mark a new chapter in Kosovo's history as the nation's first competitive fixtures. The preliminary round comprises 16 teams divided into four pools, with matches scheduled to take place on 6, 8 and 11 April. The pool winners and the runners-up with the best record against the teams that finish first and third will progress to the group stage of the qualifying campaign. Fazlija's charges will face Albania, Greece and Malta in Group 2.
"These matches will be very important to our team," said Fazlija, a former vice-president of the Kosovan Football Association. "It will be a great test of the level of our league because that'll be where most of our players come from. A good display from our team in the preliminary rounds will a have a tremendous effect on increasing women's interest in football. We'll try to give our all to have a chance of participating in the qualifying round for the FIFA Women’s World Cup."