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Kosovo coach unhappy with Euro playoffs format

Reuters , Thursday 20 Feb 2020
Kosovo coach
Euro 2020 Qualifier - Group A - England v Kosovo (Photo: Reuters)
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Kosovo coach Bernard Challandes is unhappy with the format of next month's Euro 2020 playoff ties, saying it creates complex logistical problems for his team and makes it almost impossible for their fanatical fans to attend the decisive match.

Less than four years after they began playing international football, Kosovo have a chance to qualify for their first major tournament but will have to win two away matches, against North Macedonia and either Georgia or Belarus, to do so.

Sixteen teams have qualified for the playoffs via the inaugural Nations League tournament and have been divided into four "paths", with two semi-finals and a final in each, all played over one leg.

Home advantage in the semi-finals is based on results in the competition. In the final, it was decided by a draw.

Kosovo lost out on both counts and must visit neighbours North Macedonia in the semis on March 26 and Georgia or Belarus three days later.

Challandes said that made it almost impossible for Kosovo fans to attend the final if they qualify -- the biggest match in the team's history.

"They would have to organise something on the Friday morning to travel to Tbilisi or Minsk on the Sunday," the veteran Swiss coach told Reuters in an interview. "That is a really difficult trip -- almost impossible."

Challandes said it would have been fairer to have played the matches in a single country, as happened with the Nations League "final four" staged in Portugal last year.

"The organisation from UEFA is not good. I don't understand why they don't have all the matches in one country. Somewhere like Austria or Switzerland would have been better," Challandes said, adding that the Kosovar Diaspora would have ensured full stadiums.

"You would have a full stadium, definitely, the people are frustrated," said Challandes, whose side took an estimated 10,000 fans to their Euro 2020 qualifier away to England in Southampton in September. "We have always have 100,000 or more people who want tickets for our games."

Challandes said it had also been difficult to make travel arrangements for the team.

"My team manager is in Belarus and tomorrow he goes to Tbilisi, and we have to reserve two hotels and two flights, maybe for nothing," he said.

UEFA told Reuters that it chose the format through "sporting, organisational and financial considerations" and had consulted national associations.

Still, Challandes praised UEFA for introducing the Nations League which has allowed Kosovo to play teams of a similar ranking.

"It's good for the development of Kosovo. It is a good experience and with this Nations League, we had a dream and now it's become a possibility."

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