NYON: European federation UEFA has launched a disciplinary investigation into events in Belgrade tonight at the Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania had to be abandoned in the first half after a brawl between players from both sides.
The two federations have until next Wednesday to respond to the charges, with a decision on punishments set to be issued the following day. Serbia may have to play their next qualifier at home to Denmark on November 14 behind closed doors.
The Group I game in the Partizan stadum was interrupted initially when Serb fans hurled flares on to the pitch after an Albanian flag was flown over the terraces and pitch by what appeared to be a remote controlled drone.
Serb defender Branislav Ivanovic eventually grabbed the flag, prompting the melee. Riot police moved in when fans invaded the pitch and English referee Martin Atkinson ordered the players from the pitch.
Serbia’s players included Premier League-based Ivanovic, Matija Nastasic, Aleksander Kolarov, Dusan Tadic and Nemanja Matic.
The Albanian team were pelted with missiles, including a chair, by the home fans on the way to the tunnel. Half an hour later, with no sign of the tensions easing, Atkinson abandoned the game.
Later the Serb media claimed a brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama had been arrested over the drone incident, having reported taken the remote device into the VIP box.
This was the first game Albania has played in Belgrade since 1967. Away fans have been barred from both this and the return fixture by European federation UEFA because of security concerns arising out of the diplomatic impasse between Serbia and the largely Albanian Kosovo region.
Kosovo has claimed independence from Serbia but has yet to gain acceptance from the United Nations.
Political considerations have led UEFA by ensure the group separations of national teams from Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as Spain and Gibraltar. Relations between Serbia and Albania had not been considered so delicate. Clearly this may be reviewed for future competitions.
A UEFA spokesman said the three criteria used to determine whether two countries should be kept apart were whether they had normal diplomatic relations, whether there was an ongoing military or armed conflict and whether there had been a request made by either national association to be kept apart.
Serbia and Albania had normal diplomatic relations, were not engaged in an armed conflict and had not requested to be kept apart.
He added: “The match is analysed by UEFA’s international committee. When the draw was made there was no negative reaction from either side at the time. But both associations agreed not to take their own supporters to away matches. UEFA fully supported this move.
“All the conditions were met at the time. There was no clear reason why these teams should be kept apart.”
UEFA president Michel Platini said he was saddened by the violence, adding: “Football is supposed to bring people together and our game should not be mixed with politics of any kind. The scenes in Belgrade were inexcusable.”
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who wrote on Twitter: “Football should never be used for political messages. I strongly condemn what happened in Belgrade.”
In other matches . . .
Also in Group I, Cristiano Ronaldo headed a stoppage-time winner for Portugal to snatch a 1-0 triumph over Denmark in Copenhagen.
Ronaldo had been a doubt after limping out of the weekend friendly loss in France, but his goal gave Portugal their first points after their shock home loss to Albania last month.
John O’Shea marked his 100th senior cap for the Republic of Ireland by scrambling a last-gasp equaliser against Germany in Gelsenkirchen in Group D.
The world champions were still smarting from Saturday’s 2-0 defeat in Poland but looked to have sealed the three points when Toni Kroos fired a low 71st-minute opener past David Forde.
Irish substitute Wes Hoolahan saw a late goal-bound effort blocked by defender Erik Durm before O’Shea pounced to prod home from close range with the last kick of the game.
In the same group Gordon Strachan’s Scotland withstood some serious late pressure to earn a gutsy 2-2 draw against Poland in Warsaw.
The Scots responded to Krzysztof Maczynski’s 12th-minute opener by surging ahead with goals from Shaun Maloney and Steven Naismith.
Arkadiusz Milik equalised for the hosts in the 76th minute and substitute Sebastian Mila missed a glorious chance to win it for the Poles in the dying minutes.
Georgia eased to a 3-0 win over Gibraltar in the third match in Group D, with goals from Nikoloz Gelashvili, Tornike Okriashvili and Jaba Kankava.
Northern Ireland maintained their 100 per cent record in Group F with a surprise 2-0 win over Greece in Piraeus.
Jamie Ward put the visitors in front early and Kyle Lafferty extended their lead after the break as Michael O’Neill’s men made it three wins out of three.
Two second-half goals from Bogdan Stancu saw Romania to a 2-0 win overFinland in Helsinki, and Adam Szalai scored the only goal of the game as Hungaryedged a 1-0 win in the Faroe Islands.
In the only game in Group E, Switzerland cruised to a 4-0 win in San Marino with two early strikes from Haris Seferovic and further goals from Blerim Dzemaili and Xherdan Shaqiri.