Football: Kosovo claim historic draw on competitive debut

Alexander Ring (left) of Finland and Valon Berisha of Kosovo in action.
Alexander Ring (left) of Finland and Valon Berisha of Kosovo in action.PHOTO: REUTERS

TURKU (AFP) - Valon Berisha made history on Monday, scoring Kosovo's first goal on their competitive debut as they came from behind to draw 1-1 away to Finland in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Turku.

Berisha, a midfielder with Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg, brilliantly converted a penalty on the hour mark at the Veritas Stadium after Bernard Berisha had been fouled in the area.

The goal gave Kosovo a precious point in qualifying Group I after Paulus Arajuuri had put Finland in front from close range in the 18th minute.

Kosovo were accepted into FIFA in May, and this was a remarkable result given that world football's governing body only gave their approval for a host of players to represent the Balkan outfit earlier on Monday.

Among those given the green light at the last minute were goalkeeper and captain Samir Ujkani, previously capped by Albania, Albert Bunjaku, who featured for Switzerland at the 2010 World Cup, and goal-scorer Berisha, who was playing for Norway as recently as June.

With several thousand Kosovans living in the Turku region, there was a sizeable support for the away side in their first ever competitive outing.

They saw Leart Paqarada, of German second-tier club Sandhausen, hit the bar for Kosovo early on before Ujkani made a great save to deny Finland's Roman Eremenko.

The hosts took the lead from the corner that followed thanks to defender Arajuuri, but Kosovo kept their nerve and got the equaliser they deserved early in the second period.

They might even have won it, but Fanol Perdedaj of 1860 Munich - another of those accepted late on by FIFA - saw a tremendous volley from way out on the right well saved by Lukas Hradecky.

In what is an extremely tough group, Albert Bunjaki's side next entertain Croatia on October 6 before visiting Ukraine three days later.

Croatia drew 1-1 at home to Turkey on Monday while Ukraine played out a 1-1 stalemate with Iceland in Kiev.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. About 100 countries recognise it as a state now, but major countries like Russia do not.

Serbia vehemently opposed Kosovo's admittance to world governing body FIFA, which came soon after Europe's governing body UEFA narrowly approved their membership.

Their World Cup bow comes after their Olympic debut at the Rio Games last month, with Kosovo being accepted by the International Olympic Committee in 2014.