Posted: Tuesday May 22, 2012 6:40 AM

FIFA clears Kosovo to play international matches

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) -FIFA gave a huge boost to Kosovo's push for international recognition by clearing its 208 member countries on Tuesday to begin playing friendlies against teams from the Balkan province.

FIFA and European football's governing body UEFA had previously blocked Kosovo's ambitions because it was not recognized by the United Nations.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter proposed the policy change to his executive committee at a meeting on Monday.

"It's Blatter who asked the executive committee and only one confederation opposed it,'' FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke told The Associated Press.

UEFA's eight votes on the 24-man FIFA ruling panel failed to uphold the block on Kosovo.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008, and has sought links with international sports federations in its official push for statehood.

"It's not recognition of Kosovo as a country, but it's recognition that it's a country where you play football,'' Valcke said. "It gives them a credibility.

"They were concerned that their players were taken away by clubs in other countries.''

Several Kosovo-born players later settled in Switzerland when war broke out in the former Yugoslavia and have since represented their adopted country's national team.

Xherdan Shaqiri, who's 20, will join Champions League finalist Bayern Munich from FC Basel next month, and Valon Behrami was one of Switzerland's star players when it went to the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA's statutes allow for players with Kosovo connections to transfer national allegiance if the country gets full international recognition.

 
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