It’s definitely rare when you can take positives from a six-nill defeat but when it comes to your second ever official match, you don’t have many other options other than look forward. Kosovo had their first “home” match – in Albania – after managing a surprise debut tie in Finland. Three new faces came into the eleven: center-back Pepa joined Pnishi in the middle of the back line, while Eredivisie duo Zeneli and Celina came into midfield and attack, respectively.
As expected, the side defended with ten men behind the ball the entire time against a very talented Croatia side. While on paper Kosovo would line-up in a 4-2-3-1, Zeneli – Herenveen’s versatile attacking mid – would join Celina further up field in without the ball moments, defining a 4-4-2 formation in defensive situations.
Croatia’s quick positional player and ball shifts would let Cacic’s men pile on the pressure further and further up field. The home side kept on defending in a very low block of nine to ten men and the closer they got to their own box, the more they mispositioned themselves. This lead to situations where you could see Croatia in complete control, with the ball and passing lanes, while Kosovo had up to seven men hopelessly trying to defend within their own area.
In the few opportunities the team could build from the back, Berisha was the one dropping back closer to his center-backs to get the ball at his feet and start the attack. The ex-Norwegian international is used to play in a more advanced role and his adaptation was noticeable.
Kosovo created danger not through their own abilities alone, but mostly through the exploration of Croatian’s defensive mistakes which happened a couple of times in the game. Recovering the ball in the opposite midfield after failed clearances was a common image and left Kosovar players in good positions – the goal didn’t show up mainly due to a lack of luck and ability in the final third.
Rashica is the star of the team. Vitesse’s youngster winger is full of energy and pace and not only causes trouble with his dribbling skills, but also with his movement – with and without the ball. Drifting inside very often, he can completely revitalize attacks that seemed to be going nowhere. Appearing through the center he lets Perdedaj take advantage of the wing from the right-back position.
We can notice some defensive struggles, often leaving too much space between him and the closer center-mid for example, issues that can be improved as this new Kosovo side gets together through the next couple of months.
Although the defeat was obviously fair, Kosovo had several chances to score and could’ve scared Croatia with a bit more effectiveness up front. The newest UEFA team has quality and a lot of young prospects that can eventually turn the side into a troublesome group to face. Not only Rashica but also Celina, on loan from City at Twente, Barcelona’s 16 year old wonder kid Kabashi (who didn’t leave the bench) and Mainz’s Halimi who was a menace in the second half. All of them have the talent to reach really high levels. Let’s just hope some defensive talents start appearing with the Kosovo shirt, Bunjaki’s side needs to balance things out.