Serbia-Albania abandoned: Albania midfielder Sokol Cikalleshi says he and team-mates 'feared for their lives' during mass brawl

'We didn't feel safe until we reached the locker room'

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The Independent Football

Albania midfielder Sokol Cikalleshi says that he and his team-mates "feared for their lives" during the mass brawl which forced the abandonment of their Euro 2016 qualifier against Serbia as more shocking footage of the disgraceful scenes has emerged.

The match marked the first time that Albania have played in Belgrade since 1967. Uefa had banned Albania fans from attending the Group I game but had elected to allow the two countries to face each other, despite long-standing political tensions. Albanians and Serbians are the two ethnicities involved in the dispute over Kosovo.

The trouble began when an Albanian flag and message flew above the pitch and was caught by Serbia player Stefan Mitrovic, who pulled the flag down. Albania players tried to take it before several fans broke onto the pitch.

English referee Martin Atkinson led the players off the field and, after a delay of 30 minutes, Uefa confirmed the match had been abandoned after 41 minutes of play.

New footage (below) clearly shows chairs being thrown at Albania players as they tried to leave the pitch down the tunnel.

"It was bad, we feared for our lives," Cikalleshi told goal.com.

"In the beginning, we didn't want Serbian players to rip apart our flag which flew over the pitch. That's how it all started.

 

"We didn't feel safe. We didn't feel safe until we reached the tunnel and the locker room. Four Albanian players were injured in a brawl and we didn't want to continue the match after that.

"There were plans to keep on playing, but we didn't want to. Like all players on the bench, I ran onto the pitch but I wasn't punched, nor did I punch anyone.

Video: Footage of Albania players trying to leave the pitch

 

"Right after the match, we were escorted to the airport by the police and flew to Tirana."

Cikalleshi offered praise for Serbia's players for protecting his team-mates when the violence broke out with fans running on to the pitch, especially their captain, the Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.

"Serbian players wanted to protect us as fans entered the pitch. Branislav Ivanovic was there in particular to calm it down.

"Even before the match, regarding everything that was surrounding it, he came up to us and said: 'Hey guys, it's only a football match'.

"But Mitrovic, who grabbed the Albania flag, surprised us all with that."

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