Kosovo has won the right to play friendly matches against other countries after a recent ruling from FIFA, but the fledgling nation is still barred from competing in qualifying tournaments to participate in the World Cup and European Championship.
FIFA rules state that a country must be recognized by the United Nations for it to become a full member association and that UN recognition is lacking for Kosovo, for the time being.
But football's international governing body let its member associations know last week that they can play friendly matches against the country that has, since declaring its independence five years ago this month, been recognized by some 96 countries.
The concession is not without stipulations and the Feb. 6 letter from FIFA to its members states that if countries play against the Kosovo national team the "matches should not be played with national symbols (flags national anthems, etc.) and...matches in the territory of Kosovo are subject to a prior authorisation of the Football Association of Serbia."
That last clause is particularly stinging, but there are no such restrictions on playing matches outside of Kosovo. It's a small step for the Kosovo Football Federation who have seen their top players declare for other European countries including, but not limited to, Albania.
In a World Cup qualifying match played in September last year between Albania and Switzerland, three of Switzerland's starting 11 players were born in Kosovo while Albania was captained by former Sunderland and current Lazio midfielder Lorik Cana, who was one of six Kosovars to line out for Albania in that game.
One of Switzerland's goal scorers in their 2-0 win was 21-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri, who was a young boy when he fled from Kosovo with his parents who sought refuge in the Alpine country.
Kosovo's days in the international football wilderness are a step closer to ending and Palestine's recognition by the UN last November will give Pristina hope that it too can soon join the international football fraternity as an equal member.
While the nation's acceptance as a full United Nations member state is blocked by Russia in the Security Council, it can petition to join as a non-member state, which would require Kosovo to win the support of 97 of the 193 UN countries.
That day cannot be too far away.
- Denis Fitzgerald