Serbia v Albania (UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying)
The Partizan Stadium in Belgrade hosted the match
|Event||UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying|
|Match abandoned at 0–0 after 42 minutes|
Albania awarded 3–0 victory[note 1]
|Date||14 October 2014|
|Venue||Partizan Stadium, Belgrade|
|Referee||Martin Atkinson (England)|
20 °C (68 °F)
A UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying match involving the national association football teams of Serbia and Albania took place on 14 October 2014 at Partizan Stadium, in Belgrade, Serbia. The match was abandoned after several on and off the field incidents. Serbian fans had chanted "Ubij, ubij Šiptara" (Kill, kill the Albanian), and threw flares and other objects on the pitch. At that point a drone quadcopter carrying an Albanian nationalist banner with an image of Greater Albania appeared on the pitch.
During an interruption of play, Albanian players rushed towards a Serbian player, Stefan Mitrović, who had brought down the banner from the drone attempting to remove it. Conflict arose when Bekim Balaj ran over and took the banner. This triggered a pitch invasion by Serbian fans and security stewards, who proceeded to attack some of the Albanian players, four of whom sustained minor injuries. In addition to attacks by Serbian fans, the Albanian side claimed that their players were also attacked by stewards and riot police. This was denied and a counter-claim of provocation was made by Serbian officials.
On 24 October 2014, UEFA awarded Serbia a walkover against Albania, with Serbia deemed to have won the match 3–0, on the grounds that Albania had been at fault for refusing to resume the match. Serbia was, however, given a three-point deduction, and ordered to play its next two homes games behind closed doors. In addition both teams were fined €100,000. The decision was appealed by both Serbia and Albania, but the decision was upheld by UEFA. Both associations then filed further appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and on 10 July 2015 the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected the appeal filed by the Serbian FA, but upheld in part the appeal filed by the Albanian FA. The CAS ruled that the match abandonment was caused by "security lapses of the organizers and acts of violence exerted on the Albanian players by the Serbian fans and at least one security steward", and therefore reversed the result, awarding a 3–0 victory to Albania. The points deduction to Serbia, fines, and order to play Serbia home games without a crowd were left intact.
Serbia and Albania were drawn together on 23 February 2014, in UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying Group I. Although Armenia and Azerbaijan were separated in the qualifier to avoid incidents (due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict), Serbia and Albania were not, with UEFA claiming that it was because neither nation had directly fought a war with each other. The two countries have strong political disagreements regarding Kosovo, which culminated during the Kosovo War. UEFA further defended their decision to keep Albania and Serbia in the same group, claiming that because neither association had requested to be kept separate from each other, nor were there any requests filed after the draw, UEFA did not feel the need to separate the teams.
The game between Serbia and Albania took place at Partizan Stadium in Belgrade, Serbia, on 14 October 2014, as part of UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying Group I. The Football Association of Serbia, Albanian Football Association, and UEFA had all mutually agreed to ban Albanian fans from attending the game for precautionary reasons, unless they did not carry any kind of Albanian paraphernalia.
According to the Albanian Football Association, on the day of the game, the Albanian team bus was hit with stones thrown by Serbian fans, and a chunk of concrete was thrown at them while on the field, as well as "coins, lighters and other objects" which were hurled at players during pre-game warm-ups.
Before the game started, Serbian supporters chanted "kill the Albanians".
During the game's opening moments, Serbian fans burned a NATO flag. Around 15 minutes into the game, the first flare was thrown on the pitch. Approximately ten minutes later, a Greek flag was raised by the Serbian fans. Ten minutes before half time, flares were thrown towards Ansi Agolli as he was about to take a corner kick, and a firecracker exploded. Several objects were thrown at him, and at the assistant referee. The match was briefly suspended, and Danko Lazović and Aleksandar Kolarov attempted to ease tension as players briefly retreated from stands. After 40 seconds, the match continued, while the stadium announcer asked fans not to throw objects onto pitch. At around the 40-minute mark, a bottle was thrown at Bekim Balaj, and some Serbian fans tried to invade the pitch, leading to brawls between them and security.
In the 42nd minute of the match, English referee Martin Atkinson suspended the game again due to Serbian fans launching flares onto the pitch. While the game was suspended, a small remote-controlled quadcopter drone with a flag suspended from it hovered over the stadium. The flag showed the faces of modern Albania's founding fathers, Ismail Qemali and Isa Boletini, the word Autochthonous, the Albanian Declaration of Independence date of 28 November 1912, and a map of Greater Albania. Serbian defender Stefan Mitrović jumped and pulled the flag down, causing Albanian defenders Andi Lila and Taulant Xhaka to run at him in attempt to retrieve it, leading to a brief scuffle between players. Bekim Balaj finally took the flag from Mitrović, and tried to take it off the field, until a Serbian fan ran onto the pitch and struck him across the back of the head with a plastic stool. Albanian captain Lorik Cana quickly took the fan to the ground and began punching him, before the situation escalated into a brawl involving players from both teams, Serbian fans, substitutes, pitch stewards, and staff. Serbian hooligans came onto the pitch and began attacking Albanian players with chairs and other objects, prompting the referee to lead the teams off the field. Albanian players were attacked and hit by thrown objects as they ran into the player tunnel, whereas Serbian players received a standing ovation while they calmly left the pitch. After a 30-minute delay, the game was finally abandoned at 0–0, with Albanian players being physically as well as psychologically affected.
Before the Albanian team left the stadium, Serbian police searched the bags of an entire 45 person delegation of supporters from Albania in an attempt to find the remote for the drone, to no avail. Responsibility for the drone was immediately claimed by the Shvercerat, a fan group of the Macedonian club FK Shkupi, a club operated by Albanians, although no evidence has surfaced to support their claim.
The following match between the two teams, played in Elbasan on 7 October 2015, the Serbian fans were not allowed to travel to Albania for security reasons; on that same day the Albanian police arrested a man suspected to be the pilot of the drone of the Belgrade match.
After arriving from Belgrade, the national team of Albania was applauded and celebrated by its fans at the Rinas International Airport by a crowd of 5,000. 15,000 people feated in early morning hours at the Mother Teresa Square of Tirana. Festivities were also held by Albanian supporters in Pristina, Kosovo, as well as in Skopje, Struga, and Kumanovo. In Tetovo, Albanians who celebrated were fined 200 Euros for being too loud by the local authorities. A few days later the team was awarded by the cities of Tirana, Vlora, Kamëz, and Bajram Curri with awards of honor and city recognition for protecting national symbols.
The Serbian side claimed that this was a staged political provocation from the Albanian side, and accused an Albanian VIP attending the match, Olsi Rama, brother of prime minister Edi Rama, of piloting the drone, and searched him for the remote. The accusation was vehemently rejected by Rama himself. The Serbian prime minister's office also stated that Rama was arrested and sent home to Albania, a claim denied by the Albanian government's spokesman. Olsi Rama denied any involvement and said that he had been moved from the VIP box for security reasons and informed the authorities that he held American citizenship before being given a police escort to waiting buses. Later, Igli Tare, former Albanian captain and current SS Lazio sports director, declared that he was with Olsi Rama, and Rama was merely carrying a camera.
On the other hand, UEFA President Michel Platini said he was "deeply saddened" by what had happened, adding: "Football 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." FIFA President Sepp Blatter said: "Football should never be used for political messages. I strongly condemn what happened in Belgrade last night."
The Serbian Foreign Minister, Ivica Dačić, has said that the flag incident was a "political provocation", and "The main question for me is how will the European Union and UEFA react, because if someone from Serbia had unveiled a flag of Greater Serbia in Tirana or Pristina it would already be on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council". On 16 October, Serbian Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović said that the police were examining the drone to determine its commander and where it was purchased. Serbian authorities later claimed that Albania was "not mature enough" to join the European Union because "statements by leaders of the Albanian government demonstrate that they knew such a provocation was being prepared". This prompted the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to summon the Serbian envoy and cast further doubt on a visit by Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama to Belgrade on 22 October, the first of its kind in almost 70 years. Eventually the visit itself was postponed to 10 November 2014, but Rama is not expected to see the President of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolić.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić said that he had warned EU representatives five times ahead of the game of a possible provocation by the Albanian officials at the game, noting that some of the officials wore scarves of the Kosovo Liberation Army, saying "it was clear that they had come with an unambiguous intention to provoke the hosts".
Edi Rama, prime minister of Albania, in response declared that "A normal Serbia might be possible only if the Real Serbia will understand that Greater Albania is their nightmare, not our project". In an interview he also added that "the sooner Serbia formally recognizes that Kosovo will never again be its part, the better for Serbia and the region", thus inviting Serbia to recognize Kosovo.
Incidents as a result of the game
Incidents followed the game outside of Belgrade, not only in Serbia, but also in other countries:
In Serbia, mostly in its northern province Vojvodina, after the match, at least a dozen bakeries and snack bars owned by ethnic Albanians were set on fire in Novi Sad, Sombor and Stara Pazova, and a bomb was used in one case.
Albanians in Montenegro celebrated in Ulcinj, Plav and Tuzi. Incidents of brawls among Montenegrin Albanians near Podgorica were recorded and four students had checked in the hospital as a result of bruises because of fights among them.
In southern Albania
Within Albania, as soon as the match and the subsequent events in the stadium were over, a group of 100 Albanian nationalists carrying flags and nationalist banners attacked local ethnic Greeks, attacked houses, smashed car windows in the Greek-inhabited village of Derviçan, south of Gjirokastër. At the same time the same group launched profanities against local ethnic Greeks and slogans against Serbia and Greece. Their activity was stopped after police intervention. The incident triggered diplomatic intervention from Greece with the Greek foreign ministry sending a démarche to the foreign ministry of Albania and demanded the trial of those responsible for the attacks. The Albanian foreign minister stated that "quick and efficient reaction of the state police, identified the responsible people".
After the match, about 50 Albanians threw bottles at a Serbian coffeehouse in Vienna. Several cars, including police cars, were damaged.
The day after the match, UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings against the football associations of both Serbia and Albania. Serbia were charged for the setting off/throwing of fireworks and missiles (Article 16 (2b & c) UEFA Disciplinary Regulations), crowd disturbance (Art. 16(2h) DR), field invasion by supporters (Art. 16(2a) DR), insufficient organisation (Art. 16(1) DR) and use of a laser pointer (Art. 16(2d) DR). Albania were charged for refusing to play (Art. 27(1) UEFA Competition Regulations) and the display of an illicit banner (Art. 16(2e) DR).
After the meeting by the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body on 23 October 2014, UEFA announced the ruling on the following day. The match was declared as forfeited and Albania were deemed to have lost the match 3–0. Serbia were deducted three points, and ordered to play their next two home matches behind closed doors. Both associations were also fined €100,000. The decision was appealed by both Serbia and Albania, but the decision was upheld by UEFA.
Reactions to UEFA ruling
- Albanian striker Bekim Balaj, who was hit in the head with a stool by a Serbian fan on the pitch, posted a sarcastic comment on his Facebook page to Michel Platini and UEFA, saying "Sorry Platini for the stool that I almost broke with my head, bravo UEFA".
- The Albanian President of the Football Federation, Armando Duka, declared: "I am disillusioned because we were claiming a legal verdict from UEFA. I do not understand what precedent this may set when a squad physically beats the opposing players on the pitch. I do not know if there is a greater scandal than this." He declared that Albania would appeal the decision. Cimi Shakohoxha, part of the Albanian Federation, called the decision a travesty. He said "It's a cop out. We are totally committed to banishing racism from football, and this judgment appears to fly in the face of that aim. This is not about the point — it's about fighting racism."
- The Albanian coach, Gianni de Biasi declared to the media that the decision was scandalous, whereas Albania's captain Lorik Cana said that the decision was completely unfair, as the referee never told Albania to go back to the pitch, rather only asked them if they were fit to go back. Kosovo's football association president, Fadil Vokrri, also deemed the decision scandalous. Notable former footballer Sokol Kushta declared that UEFA made an unforgivable mistake with the decision and added that in a brothel there are no good girls, discrediting UEFA.
- The Albanian prime Minister, Edi Rama, declared that the decision did not render any justice, however he promised that Albania would welcome Serbia in a renewed Shkodër based Loro Boriçi Stadium, whose capacity would increase to 20,000 spectators and would be ready by 2015.
- On 25 October 2014, in Nyon, Switzerland, Albanian supporters staged a protest in front of UEFA's headquarters against the decision. Other protests were held in Tirana, Albania, as well as in Pristina, Kosovo, Podgorica, and Tetovo, Macedonia.
- Albanian-American Organization, Albanian Roots, called for mass reaction. From petitions, protests, boycotts, letters to government officials, involvement of Human & Civil rights organization, to writing letters to UEFA, FIFA, and Michel Platini.
- More than a dozen protests were held all over the world by Albanians and non-Albanians in reaction to the ruling, claiming that UEFA's 'fair play" policy was not upheld and that political influence was a cause of the decision. In Finland, more than 100 Albanians awaited Michel Platini in a protest where they associated him as with the 'political mafia'.
- Albanian football players from around the world condemned the decision and stated their disappointment with the lack of justice from the disciplinary board.
- Some outside media were also critical of UEFA's decision to award Serbia a victory after the violence and actions of its fans, despite Serbia being deducted 3 points.
- Albanian showman and celebrity Ardit Gjebrea called for a consumer boycott of Serbian products in Albanian markets.
As neither the Albanian nor the Serbian football associations were satisfied with the UEFA ruling, they both filed further appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. On 10 July 2015 the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected the appeal filed by the Serbian FA, and upheld in part the appeal filed by the Albanian FA, meaning the match was deemed to have been forfeited by Serbia with 0–3 and Serbia were, in addition, deducted three points.
Effect on Euro 2016 qualification
The victory and accompanying three points awarded by the CAS to Albania proved decisive as they qualified for the final tournament in second place with 14 points. Albania's qualification came at the expense of Denmark, which finished in third with 12 points and failed to qualify after losing a playoff to Sweden. Serbia finished qualification in fourth place with four points. Even if they had been able to keep the victory as initially awarded, and additionally not been deducted any points, Serbia would have failed to qualify.
- The Serbia v Albania match was abandoned with the score at 0–0 in the 42nd minute after "various incidents", which resulted in the Albania players refusing to return to the field. UEFA ruled that Albania had forfeited the match and awarded a 3–0 win to Serbia, but also deducted three points from Serbia for their involvement in the events. Serbia also had to play their next two home qualifying games behind closed doors, and both the Serbian and Albanian FAs were fined €100,000. Both the Serbian and Albanian football associations were looking to have the decision revisited, but the decision was upheld by UEFA. Both associations then filed further appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and on 10 July 2015 the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected the appeal filed by the Serbian FA, and upholds in part the appeal filed by the Albanian FA, meaning the match is deemed to have been forfeited by Serbia with 0–3 and they are still deducted three points. Serbian FA announced appeal at the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland.
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