Monday 17 December 2018

'Kill the Albanians' – Albanian FA claim players were assaulted and abused during violent clashes

A Serbian national team supporter, left, fights members of the Albanian national soccer team the match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade (AP)
A Serbian national team supporter, left, fights members of the Albanian national soccer team the match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade (AP)
Bekim Balaj (centre R) of Albania takes a flag depicting so-called Greater Albania which was flown over the pitch during their Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match against Serbia in Belgrade.

Martyn Ziegler

Albania claim their players were assaulted by fans, stewards and police in Belgrade at the now-infamous Euro 2016 qualifier against Serbia which was abandoned after the violent scenes.

UEFA has charged both countries with a number of offences following the game, which saw a melee erupt on the pitch after a mini unmanned drone trailed a pro-Albania flag over the stadium.

Serbia have claimed the incident had been a "scenario of a terrorist action planned in advance", but the Albania FA has hit back saying the team was targeted even before the game when stones were throw at the bus, and its delegation and players were hit by a piece of concrete and other missiles during the warm-up.

A statement from the Albania FA said: "For the entire duration of warm-up, the offensive chants of 30,000 strong repeated "Kill the Albanians" and "Death to Albanians"."

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Bekim Balaj (centre R) of Albania takes a flag depicting so-called Greater Albania which was flown over the pitch during their Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match against Serbia in Belgrade.

The melee began after a Serbian player hauled down the flag from the drone and English referee Martin Atkinson took the players off the pitch. Albania then refused to consider returning even if the stadium was cleared of fans.

The statement added: "Making their way to the dressing rooms, in the tunnel, Albania players were repeatedly hit by Serbia supporters, security personnel and the police."

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A Serbian national team supporter, left, fights members of the Albanian national soccer team the match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade (AP)

Both countries are likely to be handed heavy fines and other sanctions, including possible points deductions, when UEFA's disciplinary body hears the case on October 23.

Albania face forfeiting the match and Serbia playing future games behind closed doors but UEFA is not expected to expel the countries from the competition.

UEFA president Michel Platini has described as "inexcusable" the incidents which followed the drone trailing a flag of Greater Albania banner - which incorporates parts of various other countries including Kosovo - over the the Partizan Stadium pitch.

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Serbia's defender Stefan Mitrovic grabs a flag with Albanian national symbols flown by a remotely operated drone. This resulted in the Euro 2016 qualifying tie between Serbia and Albania being abandoned due to violent scenes on and off the pitch. AFP/Getty Images

Neither country had requested they be kept apart in the draw, and nor did the other main criteria which also persuade UEFA to keep them separate - being involved in an armed conflict and not having diplomatic relations - apply.

Albanian supporters had been banned from entering the stadium by UEFA on safety grounds and the match was set against a backdrop of tight security.

The Serbian FA has claimed their team acted with restraint despite being provoked by the "offensive" flag and were then attacked when they tried to remove it from the field.

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