Trouble avoided after <i>carabinieri</i> clampdown

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The Independent Football

Four Roma fans were arrested in central Rome prior to last night's Champions League quarter-final, but fears of a repeat of the violence that has blighted earlier United-Roma games in the past year were not fulfilled. Asked to produce identification by police the four responded physically and were taken to a police station for questioning.

By the start of play there had been no serious trouble between 3,800 United fans who flew to Rome for the game and the 78,000-plus Roma fans who packed the city's Stadio Olimpico for the crucial match. There was an unparalleled level of security, with more than 1,400 police, uniformed and plain-clothes, on duty in and around the ground and a ban on sales of alcohol in force across much of the city. If the aftermath of the game is equally peaceable the authorities on both sides will heave a sigh of relief.

In last year's quarter final between the two sides here, three United fans were stabbed and 11 needed hospital treatment. Twenty-one Manchester fans were arrested during the return game in Manchester, and when the two teams met again in Rome in December, four United fans were charged and convicted of crimes of violence and are still in jail, serving two and a half year sentences. Last night's match came at a delicate moment for Italian football. A Parma fan was run over and killed on Sunday at a motorway service area, leading to the cancellation of the Juventus-Parma game he was travelling to see. It was a reminder of the incident last November when a Lazio fan was shot dead by a policeman at another service area, which prompted rioting outside the Stadio Olimpico, which Roma share with Lazio.

The hard-core Italian fans known as Ultras have gained a ferocious reputation in recent years, and several fans of Real Madrid were stabbed here in February, and their buses stoned. For visiting British fans the often heavy-handed tactics of Italian carabinieri and police are the other factor to fear. Dozens of United fans were injured by police baton charges inside the Olympic stadium last year. Despite laying down the law in and around the ground, the Italian authorities have declined to be held accountable for incidents further afield, prompting an outburst by Uefa communications director William Gaillard.

"The police say they cannot control the city and that is not satisfactory," he said before the game. "If we see a repeat of what we have seen so far it may be wise to move the 2009 Champions League final from Rome. Knifings are attempted murder. We cannot be held hostage by a few criminals."

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