A VIOLENT confrontation between English soccer fans and Italian police erupted last night In the Sardinian capital of Cagliari, sparking fears of further violence in the build-up to today's Ireland-England game.
Police were joined by civilians as they baton-charged a group of fans who threw bottles across the road at them.
Around 20 England fans were beaten to the ground, and it is believed most were arrested.
The incident happened at about 11 p.m. local time (10 p.m. Irish time) and came after the England fans formed up when a bar closed on the Via Roma.
They marched along the waterfront, stopping to pose for TV crews and sing songs such as their national anthem, Rule Britannia and No Surrender to The IRA.
The group then virtually took over another bar where Irish people were already drinking, and again the England fans sang their song about the IRA.
The Irish fans were not provoked and after a few minutes the bar closed. The England fans then marched back up the Via Roma, finding a seaside stall selling food.
A young boy was helped into a police car after being apparently hit on the ankle by a flying bottle.
Last night's incident followed flare-ups in the north of Italy involving mostly German fans, as fears grew that the violence could spread to other cities hosting World Cup games.
Police had to use teargas to break up crowds of rioting German and Yugoslav fans in Milan. Thirty people — 29 Germans and one Italian — were arrested.
And police in Genoa were forced to fire over the heads of 200 drunken German fans on Saturday night. Thirteen arrests were made, with eight policemen injured.
A police spokesman said they were in danger of being overwhelmed by 50 Germans throwing bottles, glasses, tables and chairs. The fans had devastated the bar, he said.
The patrol fired pistol shots to hold them back until reinforcements arrived after the sergeant in charge of the patrol was wounded in the head. None of the police injuries were serious.
As thousands of Irish fans arrived in Sardinia for today's Ireland-England game, English fans publicly warned they would carry out their threat of open warfare with Dutch supporters.