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Qualifier in Serbia abandoned because of drone carrying Albanian flag

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Serbia's match with Albania on Tuesday was abandoned amid surreal and violent scenes at Partizan Stadium.

The Euro 2016 qualifying fixture, Albania's first visit to Belgrade since 1967, was halted minutes before halftime with the score goalless after fighting broke out between players, staff and supporters, with the players eventually running down the tunnel as play was halted.

After a 50-minute delay, during which it was originally announced that the match would continue, it became clear that the game would not be restarted.

The catalyst was bizarre: during a stoppage in play to clear a flare from the pitch, a drone hovered into view above the arena, dangling beneath it an Albanian flag.

With the crowd provoked into a frenzy, Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic jumped to catch it as it landed and was immediately set upon by Albanian players. The flag ended up in the hands of striker Bekim Balaj.


[image]Albania (in white) and Serbia players (red) clash after the match was stopped.


Substitutes and officials subsequently entered the pitch, and scenes descended into running fights as a number of supporters gained entry to the pitch. With matters seeming to be calming, more intruders entered the arena and had to be restrained by Serbian players, while fighting continued with fists and objects being used as weapons.

Eventually, Albania's players hurriedly exited the pitch via the players' tunnel, pelted by objects and appearing to be set upon by more invaders from the crowd. Serbia's players followed and, with riot police flanking the pitch columns several deep, attempts were made to restore order.

These resulted in an announcement that play would continue, but -- after Serbian substitutes and coach Dick Advocaat temporarily returned -- news filtered through that the match officials had decided to abandon the contest.

UEFA match delegate Harry M. Been issued a short statement to reporters after the match, saying a full report would be made before the governing body decides how the incident would affect the points in qualifying Group I.

The two countries, separated by the disputed territory of Kosovo, share a tense history and Albania's federation did not make tickets available for travelling fans after a recommendation from UEFA. Albanian fans attempting to enter the grounds faced the possibility of the arrest.

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