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Israel return to Euro qualifying, lose in Kosovo

Israel’s football team took the field for the first time since the October 7 Hamas massacres and the start of the war in Gaza, losing 1-0 in Kosovo in a delayed Euro 2024 qualifier on Sunday.

The game in Pristina, originally scheduled for October 15, was played under heavy security. Kosovo is predominantly Muslim but also a close ally of the United States and has good diplomatic relations with Israel.

The match, which drew a small crowd on a rainy night, went off without a hitch. 

Impressive security measures were in place around the stadium before and during the match, including the deployment of special police units. 

The Israeli team’s convoy to the stadium was also particularly closely watched as it travelled through the city.

“We see scenes with children, and we have experienced war ourselves,” Driton Ajeti, a 37-year-old lawyer, told AFP.

“We are opposed to the events we are witnessing, but today we have come for the sport, and everything else is decided elsewhere.”

Gezim Hasi, a 45-year-old barman, agreed: “We shouldn’t be getting involved in politics, just sport.”

Kosovo won thanks to a 41st-minute goal by Milot Rashica, who plays for Besiktas in Turkey. 

Romania lead Group I, a point ahead of Switzerland. Israel stayed third, four points behind the Swiss and a point ahead of Kosovo.

A few hours before the match, a large Palestinian flag bearing the inscription “Free Palestine” was unfurled on the facade of a hotel in Pristina city centre by feminist activists, before being quickly removed by the police.

The unprecedented Hamas attack left around 1,200 dead on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed on October 7, according to the latest official Israeli figures, while 42 soldiers have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel began ground operations in the Palestinian territory.

The Israeli military estimates some 240 people were taken hostage into the Gaza Strip during the initial Hamas attack. Among these captives there are at least 30 children, according to Israeli media.

Israel’s relentless campaign in response has killed at least 11,180 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians and including 4,609 children, according to the Hamas government’s media office.

Standings provided by Sofascore

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