Seville (Spain) (AFP) – Spain defeated Kosovo 3-1 on Wednesday in a World Cup qualifier overshadowed by a pre-match diplomatic dispute.
Goals from Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres and second-half substitute Gerard Moreno put Spain on top of Group B in the race to qualify for the 2022 finals in Qatar.
The political controversy stemmed from the description of Kosovo as a “territory” by the Spanish Football Federation when it published Spain’s fixtures in a group also containing Sweden, Greece and Georgia.
The description was not appreciated in Kosovo, the former Serbian province of 1.8 million people which declared its independence in 2008.
In response, the Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK), said in a statement that “Kosovo is an independent state” and threatened not to play the match if it was not allowed to use its national anthem and flag.
Most western powers recognise Kosovo’s statehood but Serbia and its leading international allies China and Russia do not.
Nor does Spain, or Greece, another of their opponents on the field in the campaign to qualify for Qatar 2022.
On the pitch in Seville, Kosovo, ranked a lowly 117, were always going to struggle against the 2010 champions who turned their dominance into a two-goal lead by half-time.
RB Leipzig’s Olmo, who saved Spain with a last-gasp winner in Georgia last time out, opened the scoring in the 34th minute.
He put away a bending, curling shot from just inside the penalty area with Jordi Alba playing a significant role in support.
Within a minute, it was 2-0 as Manchester City’s Torres finished from close range from a fine cross from the impressive Pedri.
Torres had an opportunity to put the game well and truly out of reach of Kosovo but shot straight at goalkeeper Samir Ujkani.
Spain were made to regret the miss in the 70th minute when midfielder Besar Halimi pulled a goal back for Kosovo.
The 26-year-old Halimi, who plays in the German second division and represented Germany at youth level, pounced when Unai Simon made a hash of a clearance.
It was their first goal in the 2022 competition.
However, moments later, substitute Moreno hit the target from Koke’s corner to restore Spain’s two-goal cushion.
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