The Kosovo men’s national football team may have failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, however they were able to achieve history by winning their first ever home match against Latvia, 4-3 on Monday.
Kosovo became FIFA’s newest football nation when they joined football’s governing body in 2016, and had their first win as a member of FIFA in a friendly against Faroe Islands last year, defeating them 2-0.
However, the win against Faroe Islands was an away match, meaning Kosovo still had to gain their first win at home.
All that changed over the international break this week, where Kosovo was set to play against Latvia in a friendly after both teams failed to qualify for the World Cup.
The match took place at Adem Jashari Olympic Stadium in Mitrovica, at 19:30 on Monday.
Midfielder Gļebs Kļuškins captured the lead for Latvia early in the match, scoring in the 11th minute. However, Kosovo responded a minute later with a goal from centre back Amir Rrahmani to equalize the score.
Latvia continued to push on, regaining their lead in the 31st minute, with attacking midfielder Jānis Ikaunieks finding the back of the net. Kosovo managed to equalize once again just before the halftime whistle, with striker Vedat Muriqi scoring the equalizer.
During the second half, Kosovo found themselves losing once again when Gļebs Kļuškins scored his second goal of the match in the 59th minute.
Kosovo began to mount a comeback within the final minutes of the match, after being down 3-2 for almost 30 minutes, with stiker Elbasan Rashani scoring Kosovo’s third equalizer of the game to tie the game 3-3.
The match seemed to be set to end as a draw, yet after the 90th minute, 5 minutes of extra time was added on. Both teams knew this would give them a chance to end the match with a win.
It was Kosovo that prevailed, when attacking midfielder Besar Halimi scored the game winning goal in the last minute after a shot from Vedat Muriqi hit the post, Halimi pounded the ball back in to win the game for Kosovo.
“Yeeessss.... thank you my home country! This victory is for you! Happy about my first goal for the national team!” tweeted Halimi after the match.
President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, congratulated the team through a Facebook post after the match.
“Great evening at the "Adem Jashari" Stadium. The Kosovo team gave us a real game and spectacle, never giving up,” said Thaci. “The victory against Latvia proves the potential of Kosovo. Congratulations to all the citizens of Kosovo.”
Interim Head Coach Muharrem Sahiti applauded the team after the match in an interview with SuperSport Kosova.
"I am very happy for this victory because this is very good for the players and fans. This victory is a liberation for the players after the bad results in the past games,” said Sahiti.
To most people, international friendlies mean nothing. But to a small country in the Balkans that is fighting to become known in the world, it means everything to them.
Kosovo made history last night, in their first ever win at home.
This win marks the success and potential of Kosovo football, it has progressed since the days when they were not recognized by FIFA or UEFA. Now, they have realized the potential they have to make their people proud, and their country known in the footballing world.
This video below highlighting the game winning goal and the reaction that ensued, reveals how important this match was to this small nation of 2 million people.