Serbian FA blames Albanians for drone flag stunt

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The Serbian FA (FSS) has blamed their Albanian rivals for incidents which forced Tuesday’s Euro 2016 qualifier to be abandoned but will press for several dozen home fans who invaded the pitch to be charged, the governing body said.

The politically-sensitive Group I match was halted in the first half when a flag of so-called Greater Albania attached to a remote-controlled drone hovered over Partizan Belgrade’s stadium before being grabbed by Serbia defender Stefan Mitrovic.

Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic grabs a flag with Albanian national symbols flown by a remotely-operated drone. Picture: Getty

Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic grabs a flag with Albanian national symbols flown by a remotely-operated drone. Picture: Getty

“It 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,” the FSS said in a statement yesterday.

“All 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.

“However, there is no excuse for the pitch invasion by some individuals and after reviewing the footage the FSS will press charges against the offenders.”

A brawl between rival players broke out after several Albanian players snatched the flag from Mitrovic and then had to run for cover into the tunnel as the invading home fans attacked them while those on the terraces hurled flares.

After a delay of about half an hour, English referee Martin Atkinson abandoned the game, which stood at 0-0 in the 41st minute. Albania fans had been banned from attending.

Uefa have opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian and Albanian football associations with the case to be heard by the Uefa Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body on 23 October.

“Disciplinary proceedings have been opened against the Football Association of Serbia for the setting off/throwing of fireworks and missiles, crowd disturbance, field invasion by supporters, insufficient organisation and use of a laser pointer,” Uefa said in a statement yesterday.

“Proceedings have also been opened against the Football Association of Albania for refusing to play and the display of an 
illicit banner.”

Serbian media, and the country’s foreign minister, put the blame on the brother of Albanian prime minister Edi Rama, 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, arrived in the Albanian capital Tirana on the Albania team plane and told Reuters he had been “taken aside” by Serbian police during the melee but not 
arrested.

“I’ve never used a drone in my life, only bought my son a toy helicopter,” he said.

Yesterday, an Albanian fan group calling itself “The Smugglers” posted pictures on Facebook of a group of men posing with what appeared to be an identical drone, known as a quad-copter.

Under the caption “Deeds, not just words”, one of the men, identified as Agron Sadiku, wrote: “This was not my idea, but that of my uncle’s son, Egzon Feri. We never believed it would be done so successfully. I am very happy about it.”

Uefa president Michel Platini described the scenes in Belgrade as “inexcusable”.

“Football is supposed to bring people together and our game should not be mixed with politics of any kind,” said the Frenchman.

His Fifa counterpart Sepp Blatter added: “Football should never be used for political messages. I strongly condemn what happened in Belgrade last night.”