Generally speaking, a Kosovo-Bulgaria football match most likely won’t receive too much attention around the sports world. Nevertheless, the 2020 UEFA Euro qualifying match between these two small countries on Monday was an exciting and important game.
After Bulgaria took a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute following a goal from Kristian Dimitrov, Kosovo’s 13-match unbeaten run was in jeopardy. However, a strike from forward Vedat Muriqi just nine minutes later leveled the score. Ending the match there would have kept the impressive unbeaten run intact, yet Kosovo kept pushing for the winner. Forward Elba Rashani eventually netted the dramatic fifth and deciding goal in the third minute of added time.
A late, come-from-behind victory is always exciting to watch in any sport. Yet this Kosovo win was particularly meaningful for many reasons. With their unbeaten run extended to 14 matches, Kosovo currently has the longest streak without a defeat in all of Europe. In fact, by the time they play their next match, they will have gone nearly two full years without a loss.
Kosovo has a very interesting history, both the country and the men’s national football. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s, Kosovo began organizing unofficial friendlies for their men’s national football team. These exhibition matches against non-FIFA members continued throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s. Though technically still unofficial by FIFA/UEFA standards, a 7-1 victory against Monaco in 2006 remains the largest margin of victory in Kosovo’s history.
These unofficial matches, however, came to an end in 2014, when FIFA permitted Kosovo to play other FIFA associations (although the Balkan nation was initially barred from displaying flags/national emblems). In March of 2014, Kosovo played their first sanctioned international friendly against Haiti. Two years later, Kosovo was officially accepted as a member of both FIFA and UEFA.
The fact that the tiny nation currently has the longest unbeaten run in all of Europe considering they have only been officially recognized by UEFA for three years is absolutely astounding. It is also impressive that Kosovo managed to finish atop Group 3 of League D during the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League tournament. The newcomers scored the most goals of any League D team (15) and also had the best goal differential (+13).
Finishing atop their group means that they were promoted to League C for the next Nations League. Kosovo was also given somewhat of a wildcard for the 2020 Euro qualifications. Due to their Nations League success, Kosovo are now guaranteed at least a play-off spot to reach the next Euro tournament. However, after their incredible form over the last 20 months, the Balkan country will be looking to qualify for the 2020 Euro competition without the need of play-off matches. Kosovo’s next qualifying game is against the Czech Republic in September.