Serbia apologise following fan rampage

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The Independent Online

Italy received a formal apology from the Serbian ambassador today after ugly scenes in Genoa caused the Euro 2012 qualifying match between the two countries to be abandoned.

The Serbian acknowledgement came as UEFA launched an investigation into the crowd unrest which resulted in last night's game being halted after six minutes, with Italy coach Cesare Prandelli fearing a "tragedy" was unfolding.

The control and disciplinary arm of European football's governing body will not hear the case until October 28. UEFA described the incidents as "serious disorder".

When asked about the possible sanctions Serbia could face, Prandelli said today: "We will wait with serenity."

Prandelli feared the worst when spectators in the Serbian section began throwing flares and other objects both on to the pitch and into the areas where Italian supporters were seating at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium.

The same spectators tried to break through the barrier separating them from Italians, and there was little option for referee Craig Thomson other than to stop the match.

"After the initial delay, we were ready to play," said Prandelli in today's press conference.

"When I saw the 'Ultra' fans that were trying to break the wall that divided them from the Italian supporters, I was really frightened.

"I saw so many people with children running towards the exit.

"When it's like that, anything can happen.

"You needed very little to see an evening turn into tragedy."

Raskovic-Ivic, Serbia's ambassador in Rome, was appalled by what took place.

"What happened in Genoa was a disgrace, a nightmare," she said.

"I and all of the Serbians are ashamed.

"I take this opportunity to send the apologies from the embassy, our government and our population to the Italian people for what has happened."

Prandelli has experienced difficult situations before.

The former midfielder was on the pitch for Juventus at Heysel on May 29, 1985 when 39 fans died.

Last night, 17 Serbian supporters were arrested while 16 people were injured, including two policemen.

"Everybody knew that these hooligans would have stopped the game? We didn't," said Prandelli.

"It's clear that the people yesterday have nothing to lose and that is why they are ready for anything.

"They are true delinquents, I imagine with social and political problems."

Prandelli expressed concern about the impact of last night's chaos on the young fans in the crowd.

"To the children that were there last night those memories will remain for a long time," he said, "but football will continue and will be an enjoyment."

Some of the Serbia players visited the Italian dressing room during last night's events and were visibly shaken.

"The Serbian players are under attack," Prandelli said.

"They have their homes and families and they have to return, they are men in fear.

"But football should not have fear in the face of Ultras."

Northern Ireland will wait to hear UEFA's verdict as they plan their trip to Belgrade. The clash on March 25 is the next qualifying match for both teams.

Patrick Nelson, chief executive of the Irish Football Association, said today: "We'll need to plan for that game in the near future. We plan all our trips carefully as all trips are different.

"We have a security officer as part of the team. We will work with him, UEFA and the other country, whichever country that may be."

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