Potential Kosovo XI after the team claim their first competitive points
Sam Barnard, Assistant Sports Editor | September 6, 2016
Kosovo potential XI
Disputed territory Kosovo finally became a FIFA recognised nation gaining 86 per cent of votes (141 for and 23 against), despite stern opposition from neighbouring Serbia, and took part in their first ever competitive match in a World Cup qualifier against Finland.
Kosovo managed to earn a point in a historic encounter, with Valon Berisha, who was only cleared to play for the team hours before the match and has 19 caps for Norway, netting from the penalty spot.
Albert Bunjaki’s side are joined by Croatia, Turkey, Ukraine, Iceland and Finland in Group I. The Blazers are favourites to qualify from the group at 5/4 with Coral, while Euro 2016 quarter-finalists Iceland are 11/2.
In the past, FIFA’s 210th member Kosovo have taken part in unofficial friendlies consisting of players from other nations, but now a recognised footballing outfit, who could switch allegiances and play for the nation?
Coral have picked a starting XI plus squad of footballers born in the territory or with heritage that would be eligible to represent them…
Goalkeeper: Etrit Berisha (Lazio on loan at Atalanta)
Berisha just edges out Genoa-owned Samir Ujkani in goal, even though the latter was initially ahead of the former in the pecking order when the duo were battling out for the Albania number one spot.
It remains to be seen if Pristina-born Berisha would decide to follow his former rival and represent Kosovo, though.
Right back: Taulant Xhaka (Basel)
Versatile Xhaka, the older brother of Arsenal’s Granit, is usually a midfielder, but with plenty of options in the centre of the park, he’ll slot in well at full back – where he has turned out for Basel this term on a few occasions.
The 25-year-old has already represented Albania too (10 times), after playing in youth teams for the place of his birth Switzerland, but might fancy another switch of allegiance.
Centre back: Lorik Cana (Retired)
Cana is another midfielder originally, in his early career for the likes of PSG, Marseille and Sunderland, but played primarily at centre back for Ligue 1 side Nantes last term.
Cana, 32, was Albania captain at the Euros and reached 93 caps. He was a staunch protester in favour of Kosovo’s application for FIFA membership in the past, but Kosovo’s football recognition came just too late for the player.
Centre back: Mergim Mavraj (Cologne)
Mavraj currently turns out for Bundesliga outfit Cologne, albeit missing the start of the season through injury, and has gone on to make 24 caps for Albania as well.
However, earlier in his career, he was involved in controversy surrounding his allegiance, after apparently holding out to represent Germany – the place of his birth. Could he annoy Albania fans and officials furthermore?
Left back: Leart Paqarada (Sandhausen)
Perhaps the weakest area of Kosovo’s potential XI, German-born Paqarada of Second Bundesliga outfit Sandhausen makes our team. The 21-year-old has pedigree, though, having come through the academies of hometown club Werder Bremen and Bayer Leverkusen.
Paqarada has played for Germany and Albania youth teams, but has since represented Kosovo on three occasions as the starting left back.
Centre midfield: Valon Behrami (Watford)
One of three Swiss internationals in this XI, Behrami currently plays for Premier League side Watford, having been on the books of the likes of Lazio, Napoli, Fiorentina, West Ham United and Hamburg.
The 31-year-old’s experience would be vital for Kosovo, and he’s even stated in the past he’d like to represent them if the opportunity came about.
Centre midfield: Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)
Swiss-born rising star Xhaka is another high-profile name with Kosovar heritage, and now plies his trade at Arsenal.
The 23-year-old has been dubbed a “young Bastian Schweinsteiger” in the past, and if he’s anywhere near as good as the Germany captain was in his heyday then Kosovo would have a gem on their hands.
Right wing: Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)
Shaqiri would be the star of the team in terms of skill and flair if he were to switch from Switzerland to his place of birth Kosovo, and certainly the most high-profile having turned out for the likes of Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.
What a coup it would be for the Golden Boys to lure the 24-year-old back home, though the Swiss would no doubt fight to keep their man.
Attacking midfield: Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United on loan at Sunderland)
We all remember the tussle Januzaj was involved in 2013, as a number of nations such as Belgium, Croatia, Albania, Turkey and even England were all sweet-talking the youngster into representing them.
In the end, the nation of his birth Belgium won the race, but with his club and country career somewhat stalling, perhaps he will fancy a switch to the land of his parents now that Kosovo are FIFA members.
Left wing: Bernard Berisha (Anzhi Makhachkala)
A January move to the Russian top flight has put Berisha on the map, and he is the best choice at left wing in this formation.
The winger has appeared three times for Kosovo and started against Finland.
Striker: Bersant Celina (Manchester City)
Kosovo would have a few established strikers to pick from if all became available, but the most exciting of the bunch would be 19-year-old Man City youth player Celina, who has already represented and scored for Kosovo in an unofficial friendly.
A midfielder originally, Celina has been placed up front a number of times in the Citizens’ academy, and has since been prolific to even earn him two senior appearances this term against Leicester City and Chelsea.
Goalkeepers: Samir Ujkani (Genoa, loan at Latina), Kushtrim Mushica (Bylis Ballsh)
Defenders: Besart Berisha (Rennes, loan at Nantes), Alban Pnishi (Grasshopper), Denis Markaj (Lugano), Armend Dallku (Vorskla Poltava), Fanol Perdedaj (Frankfurt), Amir Rrahmani (RNK Split), Debatik Curri (Flamurtari Vlore)
Midfielders: Alban Meha (Konyaspor), Burim Kukeli (Zurich), Kristian Nushi (St Gallen), Valmir Sulejmani (Hannover), Hekuran Kryeziu (Luzern), Valdet Rama (1860 Munich), Milot Rashica (Vitesse)
Forwards: Albert Bunjaku (Grasshopper), Eroll Zejnullahu (Beijing Guoan), Ahmed Januzi (Vorskla Poltava), Elba Rashani (Rosenborg), Shpetim Hasani (Sundsvall), Emir Bajrami (Elfsborg)
Tell us what you think of our Kosovo potential XI in the comments below.