Match officials abandoned Tuesday’s Euro 2016 qualifier between Albania and Serbia after a drone carrying an Albanian flag entered the stadium late in the first half and sparked a brawl between players and fans.
Tension was always likely to be high as Albania were making their first trip to Belgrade since 1967. The two Balkan rival nations have had turbulent relations - mainly over the former ethnic Albanian-dominated Serbian province of Kosovo that declared independence in 2008. UEFA banned away fans from attending both qualifying fixtures between the two teams due to security reasons. (For more background on this match, read this)
However, Albanian fans still managed to make their mark as the drone entered the stadium around the 41st minute carrying a flag with the outline of the “Greater Albania” region on it and the text "AUTOCHTONOUS" (“indigenous”). Outraged home fans began to throw flares on the pitch, and minutes later Serbia’s Stefan Mitrovic pulled the flag down to the ground.
That sparked a fight between the two teams and several dozen fans stormed the pitch. The mayhem continued until Albanian players fled the pitch while being pelted with garbage thrown from the stands. The match was suspended for about 45 minutes before the decision was made to abandon it with the score tied at 0-0.
UPDATE: Later on Tuesday, Serbian media reported that the brother of Albania’s prime minister was arrested on suspicion of planning the drone maneuver.
“Orfi Rama, brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, was arrested this evening in the VIP lounge of the Partizan stadium under reasonable suspicion that he organized and managed the incident with the flag of a Greater Albania which was abandoned after a football match teams of Serbia and Albania.”
Everything is obviously still pretty fresh, so let’s see what comes out of this story in the next day or two. In any case, this ugly incident will almost certainly make people question why UEFA allowed these two teams to fall into the same qualifying group in the first place.
Images provided by Reuters