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Albanian FA Claims Serbian Police Attacked Players

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THE Albanian Football Association has stated its players were attacked by police and stewards as well as by opposition supporters during the violence that marred the Euro 2016 qualifier against Serbia, with Lorik Cana claiming it was “a miracle” that no one was seriously injured.

Tuesday night’s match in Belgrade descended into chaos and was abandoned by the English referee Martin Atkinson after a remote-controlled drone carrying the insignia of so-called “Greater Albania” flew over the pitch. Uefa has charged both nations following the ensuing mass brawl but the controversy continued on Thursday.

A statement released by the Albanian FA accused stewards and police officers of attacking players who were retreating down the tunnel. It also alleges that its president, Armando Duka, was hit with a piece of concrete. Cana, the Albania captain, claimed “our lives were in danger”.

“Making their way to the dressing rooms, in the tunnel, Albania players were repeatedly hit by Serbia supporters, security personnel and the police,” read the statement. “Also, before the Albanian players were allowed to leave the stadium, with orders from Belgrade prosecutor general (according to the police) the entire staff and players of the Albania national side were physically searched. Police went through each member’s and player’s personal belongings.”

It was the first match between the two sides in the Serbian capital since 1967 but, despite the tension between the nations following the Kosovo conflict and that disputed territory’s independence in 2008, Uefa did not keep the teams apart in the qualifying draw.

The European governing body, which is expected to severely punish both Serbia and Albania, does separate certain sides – including Russia and Georgia and Spain and Gibraltar – citing three determining criteria: whether two nations have normal diplomatic relations, whether there is an ongoing military or armed conflict; and whether there has been a request made by either association.

However, Cana told L’Equipe that it “was a miracle that we only had six or seven injured.”“If you saw some of the bodies – they really caught it. What would have happened if instead of a chair, it had been a knife? Our lives were in danger.”

In a separate interview with BBC radio 5 live the Lazio defender claimed that he was personally struck by an official. He said: “I got hit twice on the pitch by a steward, some of my teammates as well. And after, when we were trying to reach the tunnel, that was I think the most dangerous part because the fans were throwing everything on us – stones, batteries and everything was very, very dangerous. Some of my team-mates were hurt on the face, on the back. Some of us were kicked by some fans coming in and in that moment, in that tunnel, it was a kind of chaos.”

The Serbian interior minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, said on Thursday that Albania was “not mature enough” to join the EU casting doubt on a planned visit next week from the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, to Belgrade, the first such trip in 70 years.

No away supporters were permitted to purchase tickets for the match, with the Albanian statement describing in detail its version of events in the buildup to, and after, kick-off. It said: “Making our way to the stadium the Albania side bus was hit with stones thrown by Serbian fans. Before the team warm-up, a part of the Albanian delegation led by the AFA president Mr Armando Duka was hit with a piece of concrete which was received as evidence by the Uefa delegate present.

“Each time the team or a member of the team appeared on the pitch, the atmosphere became extremely hostile and aggressive on the part of Serbia supporters. At the end of warm-up Albanian players were hit by a shower of coins, lighters and other objects thrown at them as they were making their way to the tunnel that takes players inside. For the entire duration of warm-ups before the game, the offensive chants of 30,000 strong repeated ‘Kill the Albanians’ and ‘Death to Albanians’. Tens of Serbian supporters went over the lateral fence at the left side and were not apprehended by police for the entire duration of the minutes played.”

The Serbian Football Association has blamed Albania for the violence and described the drone incident as an act of terrorism. Michel Platini, the Uefa president, said the remarkable scenes on Tuesday were “inexcusable”. – The Guardian

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