Serbia Mulls Canceling Albanian Soccer Match After Attack

Updated on
  • Stones hurled at bus transporting team to hotel in Tirana
  • Serb Premier Vucic demands Albania ensure team's safety

Serbia vowed to take diplomatic action against Albania after stones were hurled at a bus carrying its national soccer team in the capital Tirana before the two nations’ Euro 2016 qualifying match.

Albania stepped up border controls to prevent hooligans from entering the country and deployed 2,300 police, Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri said in a statement posted on the government’s website. He said authorities were taking “extreme measures” to ensure “the safety of the visiting team.” Prime Minister Edi Rama said the stones had been hurled by a 14-year-old boy, broadcaster RTS reported.

The two countries are “rivals on the field and friends off the field,” Rama said on RTS on Thursday. The incident showed “how much work there is to be done, even though new generations have a desire to change,” he said, referring to tensions that still simmer since Serb forces clashed with ethnic-Albanian insurgents during the wars that broke apart the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Representatives of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), and the sport’s Serbian and Albanian governing bodies decided with the government in Tirana that the match will be played at Elbasan Arena as scheduled at 8:45 p.m. on Thursday, sports news portal reported.

The Serbian Football Association was considering the risks to players who must make a 50-kilometer (30 mile) journey by bus from Tirana to Elbasan stadium on Thursday, Security Commissioner Milivoj Mirkov told state TV broadcaster RTS.

“It is possible that the match won’t be played if we assess that the safety of our team is threatened in any way,” Mirkov said.

The Foreign Ministry in Belgrade summoned the Albanian Ambassador Ilir Bocka to receive a protest note, which included a request for the safe stay for the Serbian national team and an uninterrupted game. Bocka refused to accept the note, and will be denied access to Serbian top officials for six months, Serbian Premier Aleksandar Vucic told reporters in Belgrade.

A match between the two teams was abandoned a year ago in Belgrade, when a remote-controlled aircraft with a banner bearing the Albanian flag flew over the field, triggering a brawl. The Court of Arbitration for Sport awarded Albania three points, overturning an initial UEFA ruling, which ruled Albania lost the match. Serbia lost three points.