Updated at 9:45 p.m. EDT Albania’s coach Giovanni de Biazzi of Italy has told Albanian media that four of his players were injured in the scuffle.
Meanwhile, Serbian state media is reporting police have arrested Olsi Rama, the brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, alleging he released the drone from the VIP box where he was sitting in the stadium.
“He was arrested on suspicion that he masterminded and executed the incident in which a flag with a map of greater Albania was flown over the pitch and the terraces, after which the match between Serbia and Albania was abandoned,” Serbian state television said on RTS.rs (via the Independent).
However, Albanian Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri has denied reports about Rama’s arrest, describing it as “speculation,” to Reuters, which countinued, “to the best of his knowledge Olsi Rama had left the stadium for the airport, according to information he had from Serbia’s interior ministry and Albanian officials in Belgrade.”
The Albanian national soccer team traveled to Belgrade for the first time since 1967 to play Serbia in a European Championship qualifying match on Tuesday. It ended early when riots broke out in Belgrade’s Partizan Stadium, which visiting fans had been banned from entering, after someone decided to fly a drone carrying a pro-Albanian flag over the pitch.
The flag showed a map of “Greater Albania,” an area that includes territory within Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, northern Greece and the autonomous region of Kosovo, which the Serbian government still claims. The flag also depicts the word “autochthonous” (“indigenous”), as well as portraits of Ismail Qemali and Isa Boletinim, two Albanian nationalist leaders.
Things got really bad when Albanian players approached Serbia’s Aleksander Mitrovic after he tore the flag down and attempted to down the drone. Here’s the video.
The ensuing riots caused English referee Martin Atkinson to abandon the match. UEFA confirms, noting the abandonment came “due to a disturbance on the pitch.” “Disturbance,” however, is putting it lightly. Besides the players, fans soon rushed the pitch and began fighting each other and players. Eventually both sides had to be ushered off the field after spectators began pelting the teams with debris.
Even before the drone incident, the atmosphere was heated. Fans of Serbia burned NATO flags. Riot police were already clashing with fans. Nationalistic chants rumbled in the stadium. It was a mess, made worse by the drone.
Serbia and Albania have had a long and tumultuous history involving war, unrest and ethnic cleansing, a crime for which several Serbian war leaders would face international trial. While the situation has improved in recent years, it’s still far from great. Clearly.
Soccer reporter Nick Ames, who writes for the Guardian and ESPN was at the match. He tweeted everything he saw.
Play stopped as a drone flies right above the pitch, dangling an Albanian flag right above it! This is incredible. Crowd going mad.— Nick Ames (@NickAmes82) October 14, 2014
Mitrovic, jumps, grabs the flag as it falls – and all hell has now broken lose here. Players and officials on both sides fighting.— Nick Ames (@NickAmes82) October 14, 2014
This is disgraceful. Albanians have now fled the pitch, pelted by objects. Serbians following. Never seen anything like this.— Nick Ames (@NickAmes82) October 14, 2014
I guess we'd say that this match has been "suspended". No idea when/if we'll restart. That was five minutes of complete insanity.— Nick Ames (@NickAmes82) October 14, 2014
Think it was Mavraj who ran over to Mitrovic when he grabbed the flag and barged him over. After that: chaos.— Nick Ames (@NickAmes82) October 14, 2014
The pitch is now surrounded by more police when I have ever seen. There's relative calm. But the damage is long since done. Now we wait.— Nick Ames (@NickAmes82) October 14, 2014
Here are some more photographs.
This post will be updated as more information comes in.
Correction: This post initially incorrectly identified the flag as the national flag of Albania.