Uefa charge Serbia and Albania over abandoned Euro qualifier
Diplomatic war of words continues between nations over flag incident at game in Belgrade
Albanian fans wait for Albania’s national soccer players to arrive, after the Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match between Serbia and Albania, at Mother Teresa airport near Tirana. Photograph: Arben Celi/Reuters
The match was abandoned after a melee erupted after a mini unmanned drone trailed a pro-Albania flag over the stadium.
Uefa has announced that disciplinary proceedings have been opened against the football associations of both countries.
Serbia have been charged with the throwing of missiles and fireworks, crowd disturbance, invasion of the pitch by supporters, insufficient organisation and use of a laser pointer.
Albania have been charged with refusing to play and the display of an illicit banner.
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 23rd.
Albania faces forfeiting the match and Serbia could play future games behind closed doors, but Uefa is not expected to expel the countries from the competition.
Uefa president Michel Platini has described the incidents in the Partizan Stadium as “inexcusable”.
The flag was hauled down by Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic and then brawls erupted involving players, officials and fans before English referee Martin Atkinson led the teams off the field with score at 0-0 as disruption in the stands threatened to boil over, with objects being thrown onto the pitch at Albanian players.
Platini said in a statement: “Football is supposed to bring people together and our game should not be mixed with politics of any kind. The scenes in Belgrade last night were inexcusable.”
Fifa president Sepp Blatter added: ”Football should never be used for political messages. I strongly condemn what happened in Belgrade.“
Albania’s captain Lorik Cana told Albanian television his players were attacked by stewards inside the tunnel.
The Albania squad returned to a heroes’ reception, with up to 3,000 flag-waving supporters gathering outside Tirana’s airport to welcome the team home.
Albanian prime minister Edi Rama praised the players on Twitter for “the pride and joy they gave us” – though Serbian TV has alleged the prime minister’s brother Olsi was the man responsible for controlling the drone in the stadium.
Olsi denied that and, on Wednesday, a group of Albanian soccer fans said they were behind the incident. The Serbian government and media were livid.
The Serbian FA fiercely criticised their Albanian counterparts, claiming 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.
It said Albania’s response to the controversy had been “scandalous” and suggested it had been a “scenario of a terrorist action planned in advance”.
The statement said: “Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic managed to catch the flag and, as it can be clearly seen on all the footages, started to fold it as calmly as possible, in order to give it to the fourth official and for the match to be continued. Absolutely all of the Serbian players and officials on the bench were in their seats, calm and without any attempt to show force or rage because of the incident. However, Albanian players acted very aggressively and physically attacked Mitrovic.
“For the truth and justice we will not and do not want to allow the perpetrators who violated football to present themselves as victims.”
The statement said the Serbian FA had then asked Uefa to finish the match after emptying the stadium or to replay it this week but the Albania FA refused.
It added: “According to that, we estimate that they are directly guilty for the match abandonment and we expect that Uefa disciplinary bodies will register the match with 3:0 result, in favour of Serbia.
“It is a scandalous fact that the other party, with their ‘job well done’ is ridiculing not only FA of Serbia and Serbian people but also, we dare to say, Uefa.”
The diplomatic fall-out continued after Serbia summoned the Albanian ambassador to protest at the flag-flying stunt.
With the countries trading accusations of xenophobia and extremism, a visit by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to Belgrade next week, that was meant to mark a new chapter in their troubled history, looked at risk of being cancelled.
On a diplomatic level, Albania said Serbia was to blame.
“Hospitality, this sacred asset of all Balkan peoples, was trodden on like never before, in an anti-sporting and xenophobic atmosphere,” foreign minister Ditmir Bushati told a news conference.
Asked if Rama’s visit to Belgrade would go ahead, Bushati replied: “We stick to our objective, as we do to our policy of good neighbourly relations. However, depending on developments, this remains an open issue.”