Albania players 'bruised & bloodied' by Serbia violence

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Riot police had to be brought in to restore calm but the Serbia-Albania match was abandoned, as Wendy Urquhart reports

Albania players were left "emotionally shaken and psychologically distraught" by the violence that caused their Euro qualifier with Serbia to be abandoned, says the nation's football association.

Players and fans clashed in Belgrade after a flag with a political message was flown into the stadium by a drone.

Uefa has charged both countries' FAs.

In a lengthy and emotive statement, the Albanian FA condemned the "racist violence" of the Serbia players and "negative propaganda" of their FA.

"With cuts and bruises and bloody traumas to the head, the Albanian side was understandably emotionally shaken and psychologically distraught, unable to play the beautiful game in such an ugly, ugly situation," read the statement, written by Albanian FA marketing & PR director Gazmend Malo.

Stefan Mitrovic
Stefan Mitrovic pulled down the flag before Albania players tried to grab it back

"Yet the Serbian media has gone into high gear trying to put the blame on our beautiful boys, even contorting such ridiculous stories like the one that involves the Prime Minister's brother as the person controlling the drone.

"Some Serbian media went as far as to declare that Olsi Rama was arrested, which he certainly wasn't, but the vile nature of negative propaganda thrives on such lies.

"It is disheartening to hear recent statements of the Serbian Football Association, that do not muster the courage to take responsibility for their complete failure at organising a safe international sporting event.

"The Serbian side seems unable to condemn the violence, extremism and racism that was displayed at Belgrade, but rather, they seem too busy weaving political statements that do not serve any purpose but to defend the shameful acts of racist violence and the unsportsmanlike conduct of their players, fans and security staff."

How the incident unfolded
A drone carrying an Albanian nationalist flag, showing claims on neighbouring territories, is flown above the stands and pitch at the Partizan Stadium
Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic pulls down the flag, which several Albania players then attempt to take
A melee involving numerous players ensues, prompting English referee Martin Atkinson to lead the teams off the field after some fans got on to the pitch
Following a delay of about 30 minutes, the match is abandoned

Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic attempted to pull the banner down as it was carried over the pitch by the drone, sparking clashes between players and fans that led to English referee Martin Atkinson abandoning the game in the 41st minute with the score at 0-0.

Albania's Bekim Balaj attempted to retrieve the flag from Mitrovic and was attacked by a pitch invader with a plastic chair. But the 23-year-old said: "With the players we have no problem. Even the Serbian guys, they tried to stop this situation."

The statement from the Albanian FA comes a day after the Serbian FA (FFS) released its own, which accused its counterpart of being part of a political plot "whose sole aim was to force the game to be abandoned".

"The 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," the statement read.

Serbia-Albania game abandoned
A skirmish between Serbian and Albanian players broke out on the pitch

"For the truth and justice we will not and do not want to allow the perpetrators who violated football to present themselves as victims."

Uefa has charged FSS with insufficient organisation, crowd disturbance, setting off/throwing of fireworks and missiles, field invasion by supporters and the use of a laser pointer, while the Albanian FA is charged with "refusing to play" and the "display of an illicit banner".

The European governing body's Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body will hear the case on 23 October.

This is the latest incident in the history of turbulent relations between the Balkans rivals.

Much of the conflict relates to the former Serbian province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 and has a mainly Albanian population.

It has been recognised by the United States and major European Union countries, but Serbia refuses to do so, as do most ethnic Serbs inside Kosovo.

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