TURKU, Finland — Kosovo kicked off its 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw against Finland on Monday in a big night for the tiny Balkan nation.
It was a maiden competitive match for Kosovo as a new FIFA member, after it was accepted together with Gibraltar in May and fast-tracked into the 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Kosovo coach Albert Bunjaki called it a “historic match.”
“I am very happy that the whole team showed a strong character,” Bunjaki said. “I believe the second half was very good. We should not forget this is a qualifier for the World Cup and that we should continue the rhythm of our play.”
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci was also present at the stadium and met with the players at the end of the match.
Kosovo’s first official match was a 2-0 victory in a friendly over the Faroe Islands on June 3.
Midfielder Valon Berisha converted a penalty kick in the 60th minute to salvage the point only hours after FIFA confirmed he and five other players were allowed to represent Kosovo.
The case of Berisha, who played for Norway before Kosovo gained FIFA and UEFA membership in May, was the last one resolved. The five others previously represented Albania.
Kosovo’s entry into FIFA membership has tested the rules on switching allegiance. Created to regulate typical cases in which players had nationality of two existing FIFA member federations, the rules have struggled to cope with a new national team like Kosovo.
FIFA had in recent months approved requests from nine Kosovo players who had represented six different European countries, including Albania, Germany and Switzerland.
Finland, which is seeking its first World Cup appearance, had taken the lead in the 18th minute through Paulus Arajuuri.
Kosovo hosts Croatia on Oct. 6, three days before it plays Ukraine which does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state.
CROATIA 1, TURKEY 1
Turkey held Croatia to a draw in a rematch of their group stage game at the 2016 European Championship, which was won 1-0 by Croatia.
Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic gave Croatia the lead with a penalty one minute before the interval at an empty Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb. FIFA ordered Croatia to play two home qualifiers behind closed doors as punishment for persistent incidents of racism and offensive behavior by fans.
Hakan Calhanoglu tied the match just moments later, in first-half stoppage time.
UKRAINE 1, ICELAND 1
Iceland, which is bidding to become the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup, took home a point from its opening qualifying match in Ukraine.
The surprise Euro 2016 quarterfinalist took the lead five minutes into the match thanks to Alfred Finnbogason.
But Andriy Yarmolenko equalized for Ukraine four minutes before halftime at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, which was empty because of a FIFA punishment following racist behavior from fans.
Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania contributed.