By Fatjon Prroni
Eight years after declaring independence, Kosovo on Tuesday became the newest member of UEFA, the governing body of European football.
The vote paves the way for FIFA membership later this month.
Acting UEFA President Angel Maria Villar, speaking at a UEFA congress streamed live from Budapest, Hungary, said Kosovo’s application was accepted by 28 votes to 24 and two abstentions.
The vote allows the Kosovan national team to compete for the European Championships and for Kosovan clubs to participate in UEFA competitions such as the Europa and Champions leagues.
It also raises hopes that a similar vote at the FIFA Congress on May 13 will allow Kosovo to participate in the qualifying rounds of the 2018 World Cup this autumn.
Fadil Vokrri, president of the Football Federation of Kosovo, described the vote as an “historical moment” and said: “It is a great emotion… I extend my gratitude to all of you.”
The President of the Serbian Football Association Tomislav Karadzic strongly opposed the move, citing Kosovo’s lack of UN membership. Kosovo was previously governed by Serbia.
A number of national teams, including Albania, Switzerland and Belgium, have players who trace their roots to Kosovo and who could switch their allegiance now the country is recognized by UEFA.
Despite this, the president of the Albanian Football Federation, Armand Duka, strongly supported the bid.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognized by more than 110 UN members, including the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and Turkey. Serbia and its allies have lobbied against Kosovan bids to join international organizations and Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has threatened to veto any UN membership bid.
Kosovo is due to compete in this year’s Olympic Games, having gained International Olympic Committee membership in December 2014.
UEFA also elected Florence Hardouin of France as the first female member of the UEFA Executive Committee on Tuesday.