Apathy over fan violence threatens Spanish game

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The Independent Football

Barcelona's progress towards back-to-back La Liga titles has been overshadowed this weekend by the continuing fall-out from Thursday night's controversial match between Atletico Madrid and Sevilla. An inquiry is expected after the match was suspended for 40 minutes after players were showered with missiles by the crowd.

The Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop was hit on the head by a half-full beer can and saw a whisky bottle land nearby after Atletico had a player sent off and Sevilla took the lead late in the second half.

Palop said: "I've never experienced anything like it. I've had things thrown at me before but when I saw the whisky bottle land near me, and was hit a number of times, I got scared and genuinely feared for my safety. Thank God nothing serious happened."

Sevilla had been awarded, and missed, two penalties and Atletico been reduced to 10 men when Sevilla took the lead with an Antonio Puerta goal which was initially ruled out for offside but then awarded after the referee had consulted his linesman. That prompted the missile-throwing.

By the time the match resumed, well past midnight, most spectators had left and several players were in the showers. Atletico had two more players dismissed as Sevilla held on to win.

Violence is on the increase in Spanish grounds - in January a King's Cup tie between Valencia and Deportivo la Coruña was halted after a linesman was hit with a coin. The remaining 46 minutes of the game were played behind closed doors.

The Spanish football authorities appear to lack the will to act decisively and the comments of Atletico's president Enrique Cerezo did not suggest a firm response to the latest events.

"It is terrible that people come to the stadium to throw cans on the pitch," he said. "It will be difficult to catch the perpetrators."

The win took Sevilla into fifth, a place behind tomorrow's visitors Valencia. Real Madrid, in third, are at home to Deportivo this weekend while Osasuna, who have edged ahead in the race for automatic Champions' League qualification, visit Athletic Bilbao. Barcelona sit 12 points clear at the top and are able to rest Ronaldinho at Malaga today ahead of the midweek Champions' League tie against Benfica.

In Italy Juventus, who have a 10-point lead, warm up for Arsenal with a tricky home game against Roma.