Albania and Serbia hit with seven charges over violence during abandoned European qualifier

Uefa condemns ‘inexcusable scenes’ after a remote-controlled drone appeared inside Belgrade’s Partizan Stadium, carrying the flag of a 'Greater Albania'

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The Independent Football

Uefa has thrown the proverbial book at the Serbian and Albanian Football Associations following the shameful scenes which led to the abandonment of their Euro 2016 qualifier on Tuesday night.

The pair face seven charges between them after the politically sensitive fixture erupted into violence when a remote-controlled drone appeared inside Belgrade’s Partizan Stadium, carrying the flag of a “Greater Albania” which includes disputed Kosovo.

After the English referee, Martin Atkinson, stopped play, Serbia’s Stefan Mitrovic successfully pulled the flag to the ground only to have it snatched from his hands by Albania’s Bekim Balaj, who ran off with it. That action provoked an ugly melee – Balaj himself was struck by a chair-wielding Serbia fan – with the players attacked as they headed for the tunnel after the game was stopped. Its later abandonment prompted Serbian claims that the Albanians had conspired all along to bring about exactly that.

Uefa has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian FA for “the setting off/throwing of fireworks and missiles, crowd disturbance, pitch invasion by supporters, insufficient organisation and use of a laser pointer”. The Albanian FA faces charges of “refusing to play” and “display of an illicit banner”.

Michel Platini, the Uefa president, said: “Football is supposed to bring people together and our game should not be mixed with politics. The scenes in Belgrade last night were inexcusable.”

 

The match was Albania’s first visit to Belgrade since 1967 and a highly sensitive affair given long-running tensions over Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has a majority ethnic Albanian population.

Serbia have a poor record with Uefa. Partizan Belgrade fans displayed an anti-Semitic banner during last month’s Europa League game against Tottenham, earning the club a fine and partial stadium closure. Four years ago, rioting Serbian fans in Genoa caused the abandonment of a Euro 2012 qualifier against Italy, which Uefa awarded to the Italians 3-0.

However, the Serbian view, expressed in a headline on the Blic newspaper website, was that they were victims of “terrible provocation”. The Serbian foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, said: “This was a political provocation.” A strong statement from the Serbian FA said the incident was planned with “only one aim – to cause [the] abandonment of the match in Belgrade”.

Citing the refusal of the Albania team and officials to resume the fixture, the Serbian FA even demanded that Uefa award them a 3-0 victory. “We estimate that they are directly guilty for the match abandonment,” it continued, explaining how the Albania team had refused offers to complete the fixture in an empty stadium later that night or the following day.

Due to the tensions, there were no away supporters at the game and a huge police presence. The Albania captain, Lorik Cana, said: “I saw my players being attacked and hit even inside the tunnel. We were not in the right psychological or physical state to continue playing.”

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