SERBIA and Albania face heavy sanctions from Uefa in the fallout from the extraordinary melee sparked by a low-flying drone that caused their match in Belgrade to be abandoned on Tuesday night.
The Serbian FA accused their rivals of a â€œpre-planned terrorist actionâ€ after a remote-controlled drone carrying the insignia of so-called â€œGreater Albaniaâ€ flew low over the pitch, sparking a brawl involving players, fans and stewards.
The incident also forced Uefa to defend its policy of keeping some countries apart for political reasons but allowing Albania and Serbia to play in Belgrade for the first time since 1967.
After the war in the region in the late 1990s Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and its football association is currently seeking full recognition from Fifa. The majority of Kosovans are ethnic Albanians.
Serbian media, and the countryâ€™s foreign minister, put the blame on the brother of Edi Rama, the Albanian prime minister, with some media reporting that he had been arrested in the VIP stands of the stadium with the remote control in his hands.
Olsi Rama, a US citizen, confirmed that he had been held by police but denied he had been arrested and said he was not behind the incident, with an Albanian fansâ€™ group on Facebook called The Smugglers later appearing to take the credit.
â€œIâ€™ve never used a drone in my life, only bought my son a toy helicopter,â€ said Olsi Rama. The incident was immediately condemned by Michel Platini, the Uefa president. â€œFootball 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,â€ he said.
Sepp Blatter, Fifaâ€™s president, added: â€œFootball should never be used for political messages. I strongly condemn what happened in Belgrade.â€
The furore over the politically-charged incident grew on Wednesday amid claim and counter-claim, as Uefa confirmed that it had opened disciplinary proceedings against both teams. Serbia were formally charged with setting off fireworks, crowd disturbance, a pitch invasion, â€œinsufficient organisationâ€ and the use of a laser pen.
Albania were charged with refusing to play and the â€œdisplay of an illicit bannerâ€. Branislav Ivanovic, the Chelsea defender, said Serbia wanted to play on but their Albanian opponents were â€œunfit physically and mentallyâ€ to return to the field.
According to Serbia, they asked Uefa to finish the match, which was goalless, after emptying the stadium or to replay it this week but the Albania FA refused.Given Serbiaâ€™s poor record on crowd control and racism, if the charges are proved, they can be expected to have to play several games behind closed doors, starting with next monthâ€™s qualifier against Denmark.
Both sides have been given seven days to plead their case, with Uefaâ€™s disciplinary committee due to rule on 23 October on sanctions, whether the game should be replayed and how the points should be apportioned if not.The Euro 2016 qualifier was halted for the second time after 41 minutes by the referee, Martin Atkinson, after flares were hurled onto the pitch
The drone hovered into view, clearly displaying the flag, which hung close to the pitch before being grabbed by the Serbia defender, Stefan Mitrovic. When several Albanian players attempted to take it from him, a melee ensued.
Television pictures showed Serbian fans and stewards attempting to attack the Albanian players, who refused to return to the pitch. Following a tense half-hour wait, the referee, Martin Atkinson, abandoned the match altogether.
The Albanian squad returned to Tirana on Wednesday to a heroesâ€™ welcome, from about 3,000 fans. The prime minister praised the players on Twitter for â€œthe pride and joy they gave usâ€.
In a rambling 1,500-word statement the Serbian FA placed the blame for the incident firmly on the Albanian players and officials, claiming they were â€œaccomplicesâ€ to a plan that was a â€œpre-planned terrorist actionâ€.
â€œThe incident itself and the behaviour of the Albanian players, coach and staff leaves no room for doubt that they were part of a synchronised plan to stop the match,â€ the FSS claimed.
â€œIt was a well-planned political diversion and, at the end of the day, it was the key factor which led to the match being abandoned,â€ it added. â€œAll Mitrovic wanted to do was remove the flag so that the match could continue but the Albanian players attacked him. We also wish to point out that the home Serbia fans displayed no offensive banners at any point in time. â€œHowever, there is no excuse for the pitch invasion by some individuals and after reviewing the footage the FSS will press charges against the offenders.â€
Uefa defended its decision not to prevent the two nations being placed in separate qualifying groups, as it did with Spain and Gibraltar, and Armenia and Azerbaijan.
A spokesman said three criteria were used to determine whether two countries should be kept apart: 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.
In this case, he said, Serbia and Albania had normal diplomatic relations, were not engaged in an armed conflict and had not requested to be kept apart.
â€œWhen 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,â€ said the spokesman. â€œAll the conditions were met at the time. There was no clear reason why these teams should be kept apart.â€ – The Guardian