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Kosovo moves step closer to UEFA membership

(Reuters) - Kosovo will become the 55th member of UEFA next March if its application is accepted when European soccer’s governing body holds its annual congress in Budapest.

Kosovar football players train at the Pristina stadium in Kosovo January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

Kosovo’s aim of full recognition moved closer this week when UEFA’s executive committee agreed that its formal application for membership would be on the agenda.

If the application is approved as looks likely, Kosovo would then be eligible to become a full member of FIFA when the world governing body hold its annual congress in Mexico City in May.

UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino confirmed Kosovo’s membership would be on the agenda when he spoke at a news conference after an executive committee meeting ended in Malta on Friday.

Its club sides would be able to participate in UEFA competitions, and its national team could also be admitted to the 2018 World Cup qualifying competition.

The draw for that was made in Russia in July, but Kosovo could potentially be added to one of Europe’s two five-team groups.

World soccer’s governing body FIFA announced in January last year that Kosovo was allowed to play friendly matches against FIFA member states at club and international levels.

However restrictions have applied such as a prohibition against Kosovo playing matches against clubs and teams from countries of the former Yugoslavia.

It has also been a requirement that Kosovar teams cannot display national symbols or play national anthems at games.

Serbia has resisted Kosovo’s membership of many international organizations since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Serbia has sought to fight Kosovo’s sovereignty through the courts, and has consistently opposed separate Kosovar representation with international organizations including FIFA.

Gibraltar, who battled against stubborn resistance from Spain for years, became UEFA’s 54th member in 2013, but are not members of FIFA so cannot take part in the World Cup.

Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Toby Davis