COVID club loans players from rivals for UEL tie

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Kosovan soccer club FC Prishtina have taken the unprecedented step of signing players on loan from rival teams for one match in order to contest a Europa League qualifier, the club and the national federation have confirmed.

Prishtina’s preliminary-round qualifier away to Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar, scheduled for last Tuesday, was postponed after eight players tested positive for the coronavirus upon arrival in Gibraltar.

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The match was due to go down as an automatic 3-0 win for Lincoln but Prishtina were so determined for it to go ahead they made use of special UEFA rules to get players from rival teams.

Article 1.2 of Annex I of UEFA regulations, titled “Special rules applicable to the qualifying phase and playoffs due to COVID-19,” allows a match to be rescheduled if fewer than 13 players are available.

A club may then field players not registered with UEFA, provided those players are registered with their national association. The players must also test negative for the virus.

UEFA did not want to comment further on the transfers.

“FC Prishtina publicly thanks the teams of Feronikel, Llapi, Trepca 89, Flamurtar, Balkans, Drenica and Vushtrri who have urgently helped Prishtina,” the club said in a statement on Facebook.

“Since UEFA’s admission, Prishtina has received a very positive reaction from the teams in our nation, because success in Europe helps everyone in football in Kosovo.”

Bajram Shala, communications manager for Kosovo’s national federation, told Reuters on Thursday that the players registered for the match were awaiting test results in Prishtina and would travel to Gibraltar if they came out negative.

The players would then undergo more tests in Gibraltar before the game on Saturday.

All three Kosovan teams in European have had their qualifiers called off this month.

FC Drita’s Champions League qualifier with Linfield of Northern Ireland was suspended due to two Drita players testing positive. Drita had to forfeit the match and Linfield were awarded a 3-0 win.

Also, Gjilani’s Europa League game in San Marino against SP Tre Penne, due to be played on Wednesday, was postponed to Friday, after a positive test in the squad.

If Prishtina’s experiment of loaning players is successful, other teams could do the same thing if their matches are threatened by positive tests, with coronavirus cases spiking again across Europe.