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The Pristina stadium is slowly returning to normality Keystone Archive

A team of footballers from canton Bern have arrived in the Kosovar capital Pristina, ahead of an historic match in the war-ravaged province.

This content was published on October 2, 2001 - 07:22

The select side, made up of players from across the Swiss canton, are set to play FC Pristina on Wednesday in what will be the Kosovar team's first home match against European opposition in more than ten years.

"It's a great moment for Kosovo," Swiss organiser Urs Frieden told swissinfo as he finished packing for the Balkans. "Before the war, when Pristina were competing in the highest Yugoslav league, it was normal for the team to play teams from Europe.

"But during the Serb occupation, the team was banned from playing - for eight years Pristina could not even use their own stadium."

Links with Switzerland

It was during that time that FC Pristina's links with Switzerland began. In 1998 the Kosovar club accepted an invitation to play a match against the professionals of FC Thun.

"In a way, Wednesday's match will be the return leg of a fixture which began three years ago," Frieden pointed out. "Back then there was a great deal of prejudice in the newspapers against the Kosovar people, who were all being depicted as drug-dealers and trouble-makers.

"A few of us wanted to get to know the other side and we've been doing that now for three years."

Good news

Keeping in touch with the club and its players was far from easy during the recent conflicts in the region, but when a fragile peace returned to Kosovo, good news was able to filter into Switzerland.

"During the fighting we could only make contact a few times," Frieden recalled. "But once the war was over we discovered that none of the people who came to Thun had been killed. All the players and officials survived. So that will make Wednesday's reunion even more joyous."

Following FC Pristina's decade of "illegal football", Frieden said he was also delighted that the visit to Kosovo has received the official backing of Swiss president Moritz Leuenberger.

Understanding

In a greeting to the people of Pristina, Leuenberger said he hoped that the match could show "that understanding between different nations must first begin at a small level, if it is also to succeed on the larger scale."

Arriving in Pristina with the blessings of both the sporting and political world, Frieden said his thoughts would not be too concerned with the possible scoreline of Wednesday's match, although he did have an opinion about who the likely winners would be.

"In 1998, FC Thun beat Pristina 6-1, and I strongly expect that result to be reversed this time around," Frieden laughed. "Of course the result is irrelevant to us - and anyway it would be very embarrassing and a great disappointment to the people in Kosovo if we actually won."

by Mark Ledsom

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