By David Owen

Kosovo's national football team are preparing for their first international friendly ©AFP/Getty ImagesMarch 5 - The Balkan republic of Kosovo will take a significant step towards its aspiration for full international recognition of its independence - and its athletes - today, when it stages its first international football match since FIFA, the sport's governing body, cleared it to play friendlies under certain conditions.

The breakaway republic will take on Haiti, the world's 79th-ranked team, in Mitrovica in front of an expected capacity 18,000 crowd.

"It is a historic match," said Fadil Vokrri, President of the Football Federation of Kosovo (FFK).

"We have been isolated for 20 years.

"After 20 years of isolation, we could say discrimination, at last there is justice."

It was announced in January that FIFA had cleared Kosovo to play friendlies against all but countries that once, like it, constituted the former Yugoslavia.

Kosovan teams may not, however, display national symbols; nor can the national anthem be played.

Instead, their blue shirts can be marked "Kosovo", as well as carrying the symbol of a star the same size as the letter "o" in Kosovo.

Vokrri was last month among a number of football figures to be awarded with honours by Kosovo President, Atifete Jahjaga, who is expected to put in an appearance at the match.

These included four footballers - Granit Xhaka, Valon Behrami, Xherdan Shaqiri and Adnan Januzaj, the Manchester United prodigy – who were each given the title of Honorary Ambassador.

Granit Xhaka was one of four football figures to be awarded with honours by Kosovo's President last month ©Bongarts/Getty ImagesGranit Xhaka was one of four football figures to be awarded with honours by Kosovo's President last month ©Bongarts/Getty Images

The first three players have between them won nearly 100 international caps for Switzerland, in spite of their Kosovan heritage.

The FFK did not ask the trio to play in the Haiti match; an attempt to have Januzaj make at least a symbolic appearance failed.

Even without players who have represented a number of countries in their 2014 World Cup campaigns, though, Vokrri believes Kosovo has "a solid team".

Kosovo's extremely limited international experience to date includes 1-0 wins over Albania and Saudi Arabia, and a 7-1 mauling of Monaco.

Montenegro, another fragment of the former Yugoslavia, which declared independence in 2006, has acquitted itself well since it started playing competitive international matches, and is now the world's 52nd-ranked team.

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