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Euro qualifier: Albania say stones, concrete, coins hurled at players

Tirana: A chunk of concrete, stones, coins and lighters were hurled at Albania's players and officials before and during the match against bitter rivals Serbia that was abandoned amid onfield clashes, the Albanian FA said Thursday. Albania's assistant coach Altin Lala told a German newspaper he feared for his life during the attacks.

Albania's players run for cover during the EURO 2016 clash against Serbia. Pic/AFP
Albania's players run for cover during the EURO 2016 clash against Serbia. Pic/AFP 

While both countries blame each other for the violence now being investigated by UEFA, Albanian Football Association president Armando Duka demanded a "complete and independent" inquiry into the events that have further poisoned relations between the countries.

An Albanian FA statement said its team bus had been pelted with stones before the 2016 European Championship qualifier, a chunk of concrete was thrown at the delegation and "coins, lighters and other objects" were hurled at players on the pitch. The game was halted after a drone carried a pro-Albanian flag over the Belgrade stadium on Tuesday night, sparking fighting between the two sides.

"I was afraid of dying. I'm generally pretty tough but I've never before seen such hate," said Lala in an interview with Bild. "Even the security services, who are supposed to look after maintaining order, were hitting (us). "In the tunnel between the changing rooms and the pitch I even saw police hitting our players." Serbia's foreign minister has called the flag stunt a "political provocation" by Albania.

Albania said Serbian supporters and even police and stadium security had ramped up hostilities. "The facts are clear, the proof is there and we demand above all a complete and independent inquiry into the incidents reported before, during and after the Albania-Serbia football match," Albanian football chief Duka told AFP.

"The aggressors must be punished by all institutions including Serbian justice," he added. An Albanian FA statement said the team bus "was hit with stones thrown by Serbian fans". The Albanian delegation led by Duka "was hit with a piece of concrete" which has been handed to UEFA for its investigation, the statement added. At the end of the warm-up before the game, the Albanian players were "hit by a shower of coins, lighters and objects as they were making their way to the tunnel".

Throughout the warm-up, the crowd shouted "Kill the Albanians" or "Death to Albanians" and dozens of Serbian fans poured over fences onto the pitch. Throughout the game, "stones, hard objects, lighters and flares" were thrown onto the pitch and at three players who were trying to warm up as substitutes, the statement added. Fans hit Albanian players with stools.

The Albanian FA said that Serbian supporters, security stewards and police hit the Albanian players as they left the field when the game was halted. Serbia's Football Federation has said the drone stunt was "political sabotage" and that the Albanians refused appeals by the UEFA delegate to carry on playing. The federation said fans who invaded the field had only sought to retrieve the flag showing a greater Albania.

In a separate statement Albania's foreign ministry denounced a campaign of "political slander against the Albanian state and people conducted by Serbian officials." "We invite Serbian officials to show lucidity and maturity necessary to condemn anti-Albanian acts that have occurred before and during the match... and pathological violence on football players of the national team," the statement said.

Serbia's foreign ministry said Wednesday it had delivered a protest note to the Albanian ambassador demanding Tirana's clear condemnation of the incident. Serb and ethnic Albanian forces fought a war over Kosovo, the mainly Albanian province once under Serbian control which declared independence in 2008.

The Belgrade government has never recognised the move. UEFA has opened a formal probe against the Serbian federation over the crowd disturbances, while the Albanian FA faces charges of refusing to play and displaying an illicit banner. The case will be heard on October 23. UEFA president Michel Platini described the scenes as "inexcusable". "Imagine if there had been a bomb instead of a flag on the drone," Platini told French television channel TF1.

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