• English referee Martin Atkinson calls off match after delay
The flag fluttering from the drone that started it all.
Serbia’s Euro 2016 qualifying match against Albania in Belgrade was abandoned with the score goalless after fighting broke out between players, fans and team officials on the pitch of the Partizan Stadium.
Video leading up the match getting suspended.
The brawl, which involved representatives of both sides and a number of pitch invaders from the stands, arose after a drone had been flown above the pitch, lowering a flag bearing an insignia of ‘Greater Albania’. The flag was caught by the Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic, setting off chain of events that is likely to lead to severe repercussions from Uefa – who will now consider the matter.
The match was Albania’s first visit to Belgrade since 1967 and a highly sensitive affair given long-running tensions over Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has a majority ethnic Albanian population. There had been little sign of what was to come in the early stages, with away supporters barred from attending the fixture and the home side controlling the early play against a defensively-minded visiting team.
In the 40th minute, the English referee Martin Atkinson halted play – for a second time – after flares had been thrown from the crowd in the direction of Albanian players. At the same time, a drone –seemingly remote-controlled – was seen hovering above the pitch, parallel to the top of the stand, before falling towards the pitch 15 yards into the Serbian half. The ‘Greater Albania’ insignia referred to the notion of an extended area in which all ethnic Albanians reside – one that would include Kosovo.
Mitrovic caught the flag and was immediately accosted by Albanian players Andi Lila and Taulant Xhaka, the insignia eventually ending up in the hands of the striker Bekim Balaj, who began to carry it towards the touchline. By this time, officials and substitutes from both teams had entered the pitch, the Serbian replacement Nenad Tomovic running from the bench and blocking Balaj’s path. At the same time, a supporter attacked Balaj with a plastic chair which prompted a violent melee, the Albania captain Lorik Cana chief among the protagonists as he held the fan to the ground.
Serbia’s Nemanja Gudelj scuffles with the Albania midfielder Bekim Balaj, centre, as Albania players try to retrieve the flag.
The Albanian players ran towards the players’ tunnel, ducking for cover amid a shower of missiles and having to take evasive action as at least one supporter attempted to assault a visiting player. They were followed by the Serbs as play was suspended for about 40 minutes, before the game was finally abandoned.
Serbian media have claimed that the drone was controlled by Orfi Rama, brother of the Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, from the VIP section. There are also unconfirmed reports that he was arrested at the stadium. The Uefa match delegate, Harry M Been, said: “We regret the situation. You all saw what happened and I cannot comment on who is to blame or what to blame. I will submit a report with my colleagues to Uefa and Uefa will decide what will happen further.”
Serbia captain and Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic added: “We wanted to continue the match, but Albanian players said they were not psychologically ready.”
Other photos can be seen here
OP: The one time I go out for a drink this happens. NGL, I was looking forward to the game because I thought it would be passionate but... welp.