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Spain’s football match against Kosovo erupts into diplomatic row

Kosovo had threatened to boycott a World Cup qualifier after Spain had said the Kosovo flag would not be displayed next to the Spanish flag and that the Kosovo anthem would be presented as “music donated by the territory of Kosovo”.

By: Sports Desk |
Updated: March 30, 2021 4:36:21 pm
spain vs kosovoThe Spanish football federation had initially said the Kosovo flag would not be at the stadium. (File Photo/AFP)

Spain’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Kosovo on Wednesday has turned from a football match into a diplomatic row. Following Kosovo’s threats to boycott the match in Seville after the Spanish football federation (RFEF) described their opponents as a “territory”, the Spanish body have assured that the match will be played in accordance with FIFA and UEFA rules.

Kosovo, a former Serbian province of 1.8 million people, declared its independence in 2008. Most countries in the world recognize Kosovo as an independent nation, but Serbia’s political allies — China, Russia — and countries like Spain, Greece, Slovakia and Romania do not.

Soon after the Spanish football federation (RFEF) described Kosovo as a “territory” when it published Spain’s opening World Cup qualifying fixtures, Marca reported that the Kosovo flag would not be displayed next to the Spanish flag during the match and that the Kosovo anthem would be presented as “music donated by the territory of Kosovo”.

In response, the Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK), said in a statement that “Kosovo is an independent state” and threatened not to play the match if it was not allowed to use its national anthem and flag.

“We were prepared not to go to Spain due to the political context of this decision,” FFK secretary general Eroll Salihu told AFP on Tuesday.

In a statement issued earlier, the Kosovo Football Federation, FFK, had called Spain’s reference to Kosovo as “territory” a “provocation” and vowed to not make “any concession”. “We will play only according to strict UEFA criteria, with the flag and anthem. Otherwise, the match will not be played,” the FFK had said.

Meanwhile, while the Spanish football federation has agreed to use the national flag and anthem of Kosovo at Wednesday’s match, this does not have any bearing on Spain’s political position.

“The staging of the match between the teams from these two federations does not under any circumstances change Spain’s position not to acknowledge Kosovo as a state,” Spanish diplomatic sources told AFP on Tuesday.

The Spanish government’s position is explained by fears of a knock-on effect recognition of Kosovo could have for separatists in Catalonia.

When the draw for World Cup qualifications was made in December 2020, Kosovo was initially placed in Group A, but was displaced to Group B as Group A already contained Serbia.

UEFA rules prevent two countries in political disputes being drawn in the same qualifying group. In Group B, alongside Spain, Kosovo was drawn with Sweden, Greece and Georgia.

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